Although Katie Taylor has never been a household name, her interviews for this film convey a clear sense of the life she ultimately gave up for the Film School Africa program. Taylor’s credits range from award-winning dramas (The Descendants, Milk) to blockbusters (Spider-Man 3), a testament to the pure love of film she espouses whenever she isn’t talking about her students. In fact, we are told early on that the idea Film School Africa was conceived during her visit to the poor township of Kayamandi in 2008. Here, Taylor met a young man who said he was born to be a filmmaker despite having no knowledge, money, or equipment to realise this goal. After returning to Kayamandi with cameras, laptops and a modest lesson plan, she discovered other residents who shared this passion.
I imagine anyone reading this would likely agree on the power and value of cinema. This is what makes FILM SCHOOL AFRICA’s documentary format such a smart idea, as the audience is unambiguously shown and told the impact Taylor’s classes have on her students. For instance, one student casts his parents in an autobiographical short depicting an argument between the pair from his childhood. The experience allows his mother to realise not only how vividly her son had remembered this event, but its impact. Given Taylor largely focused on adapting students’ stories into traditional narratives, the interview-heavy approach adopted by Pfaff here is not the most obvious choice. Yet ironically, the history of the program feels so much like something out of a film that I might not have believed it were true otherwise.
The program grows following Taylor’s permanent relocation to South Africa, eventually hiring additional staff and offering classes at three locations. Subsequently, Pfaff spends most of FILM SCHOOL AFRICA’s second half focused on a single group of students: Sihle, Repro, TK and Juan. This cohort coincidentally represents four different cultural heritages, giving the viewer an insight into the dynamics and contrasts between communities. Most interestingly, Juan, an Afrikaner, has never been to a township and is visibly nervous when going to Kayamandi to shoot. Meanwhile, Sihle and Repro grew up in similarly impoverished areas; thankfully, this merely leads to some teasing and suggests that the youth of South Africa will be able to overcome any lingering divisions from the apartheid era.
Nevertheless, my enjoyment at seeing the four students successfully premiere their films to family and friends was slightly diminished by the relative lack of attention paid to most of Film School Africa’s early adopters. An especially glaring example of this is Molathise, a young man who is not properly introduced until after his tragic death. I think this is largely a structural issue given the ‘main’ quartet are absent for so much of the film’s first half, but other stories do feel strangely unfinished. In fact, Gasthon, one of Pfaff’s first interview subjects, went on to become a staff member and launched the program in his own community. This would’ve been a perfect (if once again, almost too good to be true) epilogue, but isn’t in the film. I looked up Film School Africa’s website and discovered it for myself.
FILM SCHOOL AFRICA effortlessly keeps the audience invested in its subjects and will have you feeling optimistic about our ability to tell our own stories. My (very minor) issues aside, it’s a charming debut from Nathan Pfaff which is perfect for anyone looking to explore South African history and cultures and enjoy every minute of it.
In this second outing the Farmer’s dog Bitzer is in his usual adversarial relationship with Shaun, his young cousin Timmy and all the other sheep who live at Mossy Bottom Farm. But then a new character drops in – literally. Lu-La is a glowing blue alien whose spaceship lands in a field not far from the farm, much to the horror of Farmer John and his dog Bingo who are enjoying a walk and some takeaways. Fleeing the alien invasion, Farmer John drops his bag of chips which is promptly consumed by Lu-La who becomes an immediate fan of junk food. Her search for more treats leads her to a pizza delivery guy who’s taking pizzas to Mossy Bottom Farm and, so, in a scene reminiscent of Eliot and ET, Shaun and Lu-La meet and bond over a handful of pizza crusts. And like ET, Lu-La just wants to go home... and like Eliot, Shaun is determined to help her get there.
Meanwhile, the whole town of Mossington has UFO fever and while the Farmer hatches a plan to cash in on that fever by building a UFO theme-park (called Farmageddon), the incompetent, hazmat-suited agents of the Ministry of Alien Detection (its acronym is no accident) is investigating the sighting led by Agent Red and her trusty sidekick, a robot that bears a striking resemblance to Wall-E. But there’s more to Agent Red than we first suspect, as becomes clear later in the movie.
The genius of this movie is the simplicity with which it communicates its ideas, its narrative and the relationships between the characters. To all intents and purposes, it’s a silent movie, using strong visual imagery, vocal sounds, music and clever juxtaposition to get its ideas across. In fact, in recognition of its silent movie DNA it portrays the MAD Agents in the style of Mack Senate’s Keystone Cops (1912-1917) and makes a cute reference to Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936).
But these aren’t the only movie references that await the film-savvy viewer. Beyond its very obvious parallels with ET: The Extraterrestrial, the whole film is littered with echoes of films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind (or ‘furred’ kind as the poster suggests), 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Great Escape, Jaws, James Bond, Doctor Who, The X-Files and more. Plus there are more Easter-eggs than the eagle-eyed viewer could poke a stick at: the local Garage is called H.G.Wheels, the brand of the Farmer’s jam is Roswell, and so much more. And if all this sounds like it’s likely to go well above the heads of a four to seven-year-old audience, then that’s exactly the point. This is not a kid’s film to be tolerated by adults; it’s a film made for kids and adults alike and it succeeds in this admirably.
As is generally the case with an Aardman movie, the stop-motion animation is excellent as are the visuals and in addition to a sweeping old-school movie score by Tom Howe, the soundtrack features a host of toe-tapping songs including its theme song LAZY written by Howe and performed by Kylie Minogue and the Vaccines. (and if you stick around for the end credits, you’ll be rewarded by a final musical gag).
As a franchise, A Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon succeeds where many others might fail. Not only did the first Shaun The Sheep film successfully make the transition from seven-minute episodes to a feature length story, this sequel (it’s more second story than a sequel) doesn’t lose any of the momentum established by the first one, nor does it feel like it’s cashing in on that film’s box office success. As derivative as the humour needs to be in terms of its many references to other films and pop culture, the screenplay by Jon Brown and Mark Burton is original enough to feel fresh and engaging and, within the bounds of a film for little kids, manages to touch on some strong thematic ideas especially through the character of Agent Red whose backstory and character arc is all about sticking to what you know to be true even if everyone else is laughing at you.
My one quibble is that the idea that Lu-La becomes almost immediately addicted to junk food is a very topical and one that relates so importantly to the kids who see it and yet, even though the idea is continued throughout the film for laughs, it’s potential health impact is never really addressed. Not that I’m looking for a didactic message here, but it seemed like this idea was ripe for a deeper resonance with the lives of its audience. It’s one missed moment within a film that is made up of so many moments that are bang on target.
It's easy to point to Pixar when we want to find examples of leading-edge animation and exceptional storytelling with incisive, clever humour and sophisticated depth of emotion. A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon consolidates Aardman’s place right up there with Pixar at the top of the pile of some good but many mediocre children’s animations. It’s reassuring to see both Pixar and Aardman continuing to treat the younger filmgoer with respect by making great films that acknowledge their ability to deal with intelligent and complex themes and ideas which recognise that they deserve rich and exceptional film-going experiences just as much as the adults who accompany them.
The film begins in the jungle where Ahkeeba (Treva Etienne) a procurer of ancient artefacts is hightailing it away from a primitive tribe with a large stone ‘black egg’ that he’s liberated from the tribes ancient ceremony of worship and sacrifice to a spider-like deity. A bit later, as he delivers the black egg to the rural home of Walter Clark (Bruce Davidson) an invalid collector of mostly stolen treasures, there is a disagreement over their deal and Ahkeeba smashes the egg unwittingly releasing a giant spider with venomous intent (that doesn’t end well for him).
Meanwhile, Kara Spencer (Elizabeth Roberts) has arrived from New York to work as a carer for Walter, taking up residence in the house next door with her two kids Jesse (Arman Darbo) and Cambria (Chloe Perrin). Kara is not in a good way, haunted by the death of her other son Stevie in a car crash that was her fault and addicted to pain killers as she tries to deal with her guilt and her grief.
These two stories come together, uneasily, as Kara tries to care for Walter whilst Jesse begins to form a relationship with him presumably as a kind of surrogate father. And as Walter tells Jesse the story of the spider worshipping tribe, the giant spider itself is making itself at home in Kara’s house next door.
What jars with this story is that the elements of the narrative don’t fit well together and ultimately don’t serve the horror that the spider is intended to create. For a start, the title obviously comes from the children’s nursery rhyme about the spider who climbs the spout but gets washed down by the rain. But, even though there’s a little girl who’s afraid of spiders, there’s really nothing in this story that suits the nursery rhyme reference (despite there being spooky voices singing the rhyme in the trailer, which doesn’t happen in the movie).
Secondly, the idea of a white western man procuring sacred artefacts from primitive tribes is a great starting point for a horror story if it delved into the propriety of such acts and, classically, used the spider trope as way of the collector getting his comeuppance. That almost happens here – there’s a nice scene between Jesse and Walter when Jesse returns an object he’s stolen, and Walter calls him a thief. Jesse comes straight back at the old man pointing out that his ‘collecting’ is no different. But that’s about as far as this idea goes before it gets swamped by the final story element which, of course, is Kara’s drug addiction and guilt over her dead child. As a set up for a mother who must ultimately face the giant spider, this backstory and character flaw gets in the way of the horror story and fails to fuel its suspense.
It's a shame that these elements don’t form a more cohesive narrative spine, because many of the other aspects of the film work quite well. It’s nicely shot by Marcos Durian and the special effects overseen by Dan Rebert provide some nicely icky and gooey spider secretions and the spider itself is pleasingly non-CGI (even if the creature work is at times a bit stilted). There are some good scary moments that work fine but would be all the more terrifying if they were better embedded in the narrative.
The performances are solid and the presence of more experienced actors like Bruce Davidson (X-Men, Apt Pupil, Willard) and Denise Crosby (Ray Donovan, Deep Impact, Star Trek: Next Generation) add some gravitas to the cast and Gallo’s direction keeps things moving at a good pace.
Itsy Bitsy may not be the most satisfying flick in the cannon of spider-horror, but it does offer an entertaining and occasionally scary night in front of the screen.
Itsy Bitsy will be available on home-entertainment through Eagle Entertaimnet in March 2020.
For this movie, Devlin’s surrendered the screenwriting task to Brandon Boyce, screen-adapter of Stephen King’s Apt Pupil (1998) and Gilles Mimouni’s film L’Appartement into Wicker Park (2004), and their collaboration produces a movie that’s often suspenseful but occasionally nastier than it needs to be.
Robert Sheehan is Sean Falco, an aspiring photographer and accomplished slacker who, together with his friend Derek (Carlito Olivero) has set up a nice little earner offering an on-street valet parking service at a local restaurant that enables the pair to GPS their way back to the owner’s home for a little light burglary before the main course is finished. But their little plan comes undone when Sean takes the keys from Cale Erendriech (a snarling David Tennant) and breaks into his house, only to discover Katie (Kerry Condon) an abducted and abused young woman chained to a chair in Cale’s study (that’s not really a spoiler... it’s in the trailer). Before Sean can figure out how to release her, Derek calls to say that Cale is waiting on his car. What to do? If Sean goes to the cops, he’ll have to admit that he broke into the house. If he does nothing, who knows what will happen to Katie. Nothing good, that’s for sure.
Contrary to the film’s title, Sean decides to be the ‘good’ Samaritan but, of course, the cops don’t believe him, especially when they visit Cale’s house and fail to come up with the victim. So now, while Sean is trying to figure out how to save Katie’s life, Cale is busy turning Sean’s life into a nightmare. From this quite promising beginning, the film moves into a predictable series of events that focus on the torture of Cale’s abductee and the systematic destruction of Sean’s life, friend by family by girlfriend. It’s here that the story makes a choice to focus on the male characters in terms of action and backstory and screen time, at the expense of the two main female characters. Katie, the abductee, and Riley (Jaqueline Byers) Sean’s girlfriend, exist functionally to provide the focus for the sex and violence of the film. Other than that, they get short shrift on any character development or relevance to the narrative. I’m sure there’s an argument to say that that’s the way this genre works, but there are stronger arguments to say that filmmakers should be working harder to eliminate those excuses.
On the plus side, Tennant makes the most of his sociopathic character spending inordinate amounts of time and money (both of which he seems to have in surplus) putting in place his elaborate and nasty plans and outwitting his pursuers with his high-tech gadgetry. It’s always these elements that, for me at east, stretch the bounds of reason with these kinds of films. It’s one thing for a screenwriter to dream up these elaborate and overly staged acts of revenge and violence, it’s another to convince us that the villain would really go to all this trouble and expense. It always seems a little too convenient when the psycho serial killer has unlimited resources. Plus, why doesn’t he just kill Sean? I guess protracted revenge plans is part of being a psycho killer, but it still gives one pause when you stop to think about the logistics and plausibility of what he gets away with. The clue to the psychology of his character is given in the film’s prologue – we see Cale as a boy torturing not a small animal, but a horse. Nevertheless, David Tennant is one of those actors who is always compelling on screen, whether he’s leaping about as Doctor Who, solving the puzzle of Broadchurch or (as in this film) chaining and caging young women in his cabin in the woods where he’s at his creepiest best.
Bad Samaritan isn’t exactly a torture-porn flick, although it flirts with those conventions. It, perhaps, aspires to something more Hitchcockian than it achieves but, its misogyny aside, it’s got enough thrill and suspense to keep your eyes on the screen, even when you feel you really should look away.
BAD SAMARITAN is available on DVD from Eagle Entertainment on 05/02/2020
Perhaps the biggest structural challenge Burns’ script succumbs to is adding suspense without feeling forced. While other journalism films like Spotlight are presented in chronological order and constantly uncover new, damning information, THE REPORT skips back and forth across its timeline because there are essentially just a handful of key facts: the CIA used torture to interrogate terrorism suspects, they were aware of how unethical (and illegal) this could be, then there was a coverup. Since the audience is given all of this information within the first act, everything else feels like Burns is repeating himself to pad the runtime. I was unaware of the real-life report and believe it serves an important function, but don’t like having an argument shoved down my throat via similar examples. The torture scenes are harrowing yet compellingly shot and an effective technique for breaking up events, proving the value of showing instead of telling. Nevertheless, Burns leaves these too few and far between.
Adam Driver stars as Dan Jones, lead investigator working on behalf of the U.S. Senate and the kind of thankless, pragmatic American Hero archetype which makes the film feel a little outdated. For instance, the final shot literally follows Jones leaving the Senate building on foot, a cliched symbol for his humility and tireless commitment. I think it’s fair to say Driver is a divisive presence—his voice alone reminds me of a Kermit the Frog impression—though I’ve previously always found him to be good if not great (come at me, Star Wars fans). Unfortunately, here the dull script leaves him stuck in two modes: monotonous mumbling and weirdly unemotional yelling. Seriously, the latter is as if Burns’ note was merely to say the words louder. Anyone who was still on the fence about Driver won’t be won over by this performance; it’s their loss, but still a shame.
Annette Bening is the only other cast member with a sizeable role as Jones’ supervisor, Senator Dianne Feinstein. Despite being given several anti-torture and anti-corruption monologues which seem primed to show off her range, Bening strangely doesn’t seize these showcase moments. They’re left feeling flat, much like the rest of the film. Consequently, most scenes with Feinstein are relegated to quietly keeping Jones from losing focus or ruffling feathers, truly wasting Bening’s talent. Indeed, a waste of talent is the best description I could provide for THE REPORT; Burns himself has delivered some great scripts in the past even if 2019 hasn’t been his most successful year (he also penned the Netflix stinker The Laundromat). I can’t stress enough that the events inspiring this film are worth finding a summary and learning about to help ensure history doesn’t repeat itself. It’s not an inherently boring topic, just one which has been presented as such here.
Will Smith stars as ultra-suave secret agent Lance Sterling, who is less of a James Bond parody and more a repurposing of Smith’s own natural charisma. Yes, he’s basically playing himself which sounds gimmicky (especially given Gemini Man recently showed that too much of him can be a bad thing). However, in practice it’s an effortlessly charming performance that proves exactly why Smith’s star power has endured for decades. When Smith as Sterling makes a quip or pulls off an absurd stunt, it’s simply fun to watch. Likewise, it’s hardly surprising that he’s just as capable of selling the story’s emotional beats. This is far from the first film to feature the moral of opening oneself up to others, but Smith’s earnest delivery makes it feel fresh.
Although Smith was my personal favourite among the cast, co-lead Tom Holland is just as enjoyable and provides most of the film’s heart. As the young, brilliant but ostracised inventor Walter Beckett, Holland’s upbeat performance beautifully captures the notion of following your own path regardless of what other people think (naturally, Walter has almost the same voice as Holland’s version of Peter Parker). He’s smart enough to perceive his unpopularity but remains confident in changing minds on his own terms, which feels like a valuable lesson for younger viewers. Finally, any discussion of the cast would not be complete without highlighting Ben Mendelsohn as the enigmatic villain Killian. Mendelsohn expertly pivots between returning one-liners and sneering through wicked monologues; although the character’s motivation is underwritten and left until too late, he’s literally always the perfect actor for playing a bad guy.
While I’ve largely focused on the impressive voicework anchoring SPIES IN DISGUISE, the quirky plot, creativity and humour are just as successful and should help it stand out from other animated fare. After Killian frames Sterling for stealing a high-tech drone and forces him to go on the run, Walter reveals he’s been working on a revolutionary new method for ‘disappearing’. It turns Sterling into a pigeon, complete with tiny bowtie pattern on his feathers, and enormous stylised eyebrows. As the pair work to clear Sterling’s name, several of Walter’s other wacky inventions are shown, including Serious String, Inflatable Hugs, and Kitty Glitter (for distracting people, obviously). In a particularly effective running gag, that bonkers final example has a 100% success rate. Overall, I was pleased to find the jokes weren’t written to pander exclusively to kids’ taste. In fact, others such as Walter’s obsession with Korean soap operas (and the film’s obsession with the word ‘cloaca’) are genuinely inspired.
By the way, if anything stood out in the list of Walter’s gadgets I provided above, it should be the non-lethal functionality. In an unexpected yet impressive move, SPIES IN DISGUISE is unafraid to advocate for non-violent conflict resolution without becoming a lecture. Rather, its story serves as a persuasive case study by explaining how lateral thinking can provide alternatives to violence. I felt that by making this a defining feature of Walter’s character and using it to propel the film, the argument never felt superfluous or tiresome. It’s just another example of how SPIES IN DISGUISE thinks differently, and a little bit smarter than your average animated blockbuster. Despite initially being unsure what to expect, I found SPIES IN DISGUISE to be a consistently surprising and joyous experience. Between the vivid animation, stellar cast and clever writing, there’s something for everyone to love here.
Jump to the present day and we meet Lou (the man from the voiceover) and his son Duffy (real life father and son Michael and Christian Madsen). This is obviously a strained relationship, but the presence of Lou’s grandson, Louie (Frank Peluso III) is bringing the family closer together, until Lou is murdered by a culty kind of group who we just know are connected to Moloch. Lou’s three estranged sons, Duffy, Gus (Ryan Carnes) and Pete (Owen Burke) decide to gather at their family home in Oregon to scatter their father’s ashes. This is a creepy, backwoods kind of place (that we recognise from the prologue) laced with repressed family memories and terrible stories of children being taken by the river. At the centre of the unease that hangs like a cloud over the family is Lou’s brother Reynolds (Michael Biehn) and a woman called Rachael (Caroline Vreeland) who we recognise as the woman who lured Lou to his death. There’s something bad going on here and we’re pretty sure it involves Louie, but the film gets very bogged down while we wait for the inevitable disappearance of the boy to happen.
And, while we wait, Pete keeps having flashbacks to his own childhood where unspeakable things were going on in this house and he slowly puts together the truth of who and what the family is. It’s here, as the movie shifts towards its climax, that the whole thing becomes tediously predictable trudging towards the conclusion that we’ve seen coming since the beginning of the movie.
It's hard to make occult films work without the rituals and demonic practices being laughable and, sadly, this film doesn’t meet the challenge, attempting to paper over the cracks in its shaky narrative with some gratuitous semi-nudity and plenty demonic tropes. As expected, the film propels itself towards a suitable comeuppance for its villain and the predictable self-sacrifice as redemption for one of the brothers.
RED HANDED veers unsteadily between its moments of mystery and its moments of horror with neither of them being totally satisfying for the audience. It’s great to see a couple of eighties icons like Madsen and Biehn chewing up the scenery in their brief and highly melodramatic appearances, but this and some strong performances by most of the cast isn’t enough to overcome the plodding story and the muddle of the final scenes or, most importantly, the fact that we’ve been waiting for the past eighty minutes for these scenes to confirm what we’ve known since the start.
Simmons is Mr Gallo, the ambitious corporate high-flyer who schedules his all too rare moments with his mostly estranged daughter Ginnie (Analeigh Tipton) between flights and business meetings. When we meet them, they’re at an excruciatingly awkward dinner with Ginnie’s boyfriend Martin (Emile Hirsch) a struggling banjo player who seems no match for her overbearing father. Cut to six months later and Martin and Ginnie have broken up and Mr Gallo is banging on his door looking for his daughter who hasn’t answered his texts or phone calls for several days. Uncharacteristically, he’s worried about her. Reluctantly, the heartbroken and morose Martin agrees to help Gallo find his daughter. Their ‘all night’ search begins with the ex-couple’s best friends Gary (Taran Killam) and Roberta (Kristen Schaal) whose own relationship is seriously on the rocks. This begins a series of scenes that all end with a variation on ‘...she was here but left without warning and we don’t know where she is but you might find her at...’ – and so the search continues from one supposed comedic situation to another until we reach the predictable end where both Martin and Gallo will each learn something about themselves and set a new course on a journey to become better men.
This is director Gavin Wiesen’s second feature after The Art of Getting By (2011) but this time he doesn’t take the writing credit, instead choosing to work from a screenplay by Seth Owen who gave us the thoughtful but only partially successful A.I. thriller Morgan (2016). The setup to Owen’s screenplay is promising and the ideas and characters he populates it with all have potential to be funny but feel like they’re a draft or two away from really having the sharpness and wit they need to carry this kind of ‘inner-city-road-trip-cum-buddy-movie’ structure. In the end, it relies on strong and clever direction, which is mostly lacking, and some hard work from the actors to plump up the thin material they’re given to work with. Simmons is most successful at this, but Hirsch’s performance is too one-note to match him leaving the ‘mismatched-buddy’ relationship without any chemistry. Both Killam and Schaal make a good fist of their roles, but their presence in the film is too brief for that to have any great impact. In the end, it’s left to Simmons to carry the film and despite his best efforts (including several scenes where he sports a cute, two sizes too small, women’s t-shirt top with the logo ‘keep it juicy’ across his chest) he can only carry it so far. In the end, Owen and Wiesen should have taken the advice from Mr Gallo’s pink t-shirt. ALL NIGHTER just doesn’t have enough juice in the tank to raise this story to the level it needs to reach to make us do more than smile and chuckle when we should be laughing out loud.
ALL NIGHTER is released on DVD by Eagle Entertainment on 05/02/2020
Eugene (Peter Flaherty) is an introverted photographer who works and cares for his sick father out of a tiny flat. Although his pictures have attracted interest from magazines, their confronting subject matter—substance abuse, gang violence—has kept them from being published. This all changes following a chance encounter with Josephine (Sarah Timm), a young immigrant forced into prostitution by a shadowy criminal organisation. As Eugene puts it, his shots of Jo are the first glimpse of ‘something worth saving’ within the squalor he typically captures; unsurprisingly, they become his most successful work yet. In my opinion, the sheer number of subsequent plot developments feels contrived and distracts from this solid, Taxi Driver-esque foundation. For instance, the scenes with Eugene’s father bring the story to a halt and have no emotional impact on any character for the rest of the film.
CHOIR GIRL is at its best when it leans into noir conventions, which Flaherty’s commanding lead performance highlights. Much like the protagonists of classic detective novels, Eugene has been left cynical and exasperated after years of witnessing crime and poverty flourish around him. When the police fail to show up at the brothel where Josephine is being held captive, Flaherty perfectly conveys the lack of surprise tinging his disappointment. Meanwhile, I found him more than capable of carrying the wordless, suspenseful sequences scattered throughout the film’s first half. In true noir fashion, my favourite of these sees Eugene sneaking through dimly lit alleyways towards the brothel, narrowly— almost implausibly—avoiding discovery. Nevertheless, there’s an undeniable creepy edge to this character that Flaherty doesn’t shy away from, inviting the audience to question whether Eugene has risen above his surroundings or sunk to their level, or, whether he treats Jo any better than her captors. I was unconvinced by the script’s efforts to frame this ambiguously (more on that below), but admired Flaherty’s transformation of frustration into callousness as time grew on.
Unfortunately, while the harsh subjects of Eugene’s photos are excused by other characters due to their authenticity, the film becomes increasingly unbelievable and makes it hard to stay engaged. The most glaring example of this is Eugene’s spiral into outright villainy, culminating in an abhorrent penultimate scene that is still ostensibly cast as an effort to ‘rescue’ Jo. To put it simply: an underage victim of abuse places her trust in a stranger who takes advantage of her for his own gain, only for the supporting cast to fail to call their dynamic out for what it is. Before you call me naïve, I think the biggest obstacle here is that Fraser doesn’t establish a clear setting or time period. As a result, the ‘Melbourne’ being shown neither looks nor feels like the city I know, apart from an establishing time lapse late in the second act. Even Eugene’s supposedly rough neighbourhood remains unnamed for the entire runtime. Likewise, the computers, phones and Eugene’s camera looked a few decades old to me. Ultimately, without any solid world-building I just don’t understand how Eugene and Jo’s fucked up pairing could escalate as Fraser depicts it. Maybe decades ago (not that it would make the behaviour acceptable), but not now.
CHOIR GIRL certainly bears enough resemblance to classic noir for genre lovers to get excited for. In fact, cinematographer Mark Kenfield is my personal MVP for his intriguing use of shadows, particularly early on as the plot unfolds and tension is at its highest. However, its unlikeable characters coupled with baffling story choices make it hard to imagine this film having wide appeal.
2019 | DIR: MICHAEL BEACH NICHOLS | STARRING: WRINKLES THE CLOWN, DB LAMBERT | REVIEW BY GLENN COCHRANE.
Wrinkles The Clown arrived in 2015 thanks to a YouTube video, which went viral and scared the living shit out of millions of people. Recorded on a nanny-cam the video showed Wrinkles appear from beneath a sleeping girl's bed, leering over her and eventually disabling the camera. It was an 80-second video that spawned an Urban Legend, not unlike Slender Man, and within months more videos appeared online. Wrinkles was spotted glaring through bedroom windows, hiding in back yards and scrounging through trash at night. His image was terrifying and no sooner had his presence stirred up panic amongst the community, his image suddenly appeared on stickers all over the state of Florida alongside a cell-phone number.
An anonymous Facebook page also appeared where countless sightings were uploaded, and before long his legend was terrorising susceptible minds. Much like the curse of Bloody Mary or the likes of Candyman, Wrinkles The Clown became a game of chance for kids. To dial his phone number would be to bring upon unimaginable horrors, and as so many reaction videos show, kids were being met with an unsettling voice recording offering services to whoever needs a good scare.
Yes, as it turned out Wrinkles The Clown was no more than a regular guy offering his service for “a few hundred bucks” per scare and the new documentary WRINKLES THE CLOWN explores his rising legend, dating it back to the start, and examining the psychology of his so-called 'performance'.
Running at 75-minutes the film is a simple enquiry of who Wrinkles is, why he's resonated so profoundly, and how his business impacts fragile minds. Featuring interviews with psychologists, victims and happy customers alike, director Michael Beach Nicholas follows the man behind the mask - keeping his identity concealed – and questions the ethical side to what he does. Children recount their sleepless nights and deep-seeded anxieties, showing the adverse affect of Wrinkle's work, while other parents explain using him as a means to disciplining their kids. The true detriment to his business is yet to be seen, but the one certainty is that folks are divided.
It must be stated that Wrinkles does not physically interfere with this targets. He never touches people or break any laws. He is simply a man-for-hire who arranges elaborate pranks for happy clients.
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the documentary is the various revelations strategically placed throughout. Without revealing his identity the man behind the mask offers a fascinating insight into his method, providing raw footage of the many viral videos, proving that each and every victim was, indeed, in on the joke... or had at least acquired his service. It also details his own fears as copy-cat cases arise and a wide-spread “creepy clown” epidemic stirs up vulnerable communities.
WRINKLES THE CLOWN is a curious document that contextualises urban legends and online hysteria. It is told with a measured sense of frivolity and mirth, and delights in freaking out its audience with unexpected twists and turns. Coulrophobia is the fear of clowns and those who suffer from it might want to steer well clear of this one, but I would encourage others to catch it.