Saturday, 31 October 2009


Opening with a thank-you to the characters who purportedly provided the footage in the film, Paranormal Activity comprises realistic DV footage shot by young couple Micah and Katie as they try to track down the ghostly entity that has been following Katie all her life. The couple are visited by psychic Dr. Fredrichs, who believes that Katie will never be able to shake off the haunting visions and suggests that they contact a demonologist. Micah becomes dismissive of the whole scenario, which frustrates Katie and becomes the catalyst for some intense arguments, something that Dr. Fredrichs warned would fuel the ghost. Indeed, the couple bear witness to some frightening goings-on, from small objects moving on their own to footsteps and growls. Out of desperation, Micah purchases a Ouija board, an act that is to lead to unpredictable chaos.

The film inevitably invites comparison to the likes of Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project, and it certainly shares some of those films’ flaws. The shooting style stops being realistic after about ten minutes of nauseating romantic exchanges, and the camerawork suddenly becomes more professional whenever a character has an important line to deliver. One also wonders why, as with Cloverfield, the couple felt the need to film absolutely everything, particularly the moments when the two are simply watching back footage. But all things considered, Paranormal Activity is not a bad film, delivering scares at a sensible pace and subtly surprising the viewer. A recommended watch for those tired of blood-and-guts horror.

Friday, 30 October 2009


Although the title would suggest a wider scope of music, Friðrik Þór Friðriksson’s made-for-TV rockumentary is at heart a vehement tribute to the relatively new insurgence of punk music in Iceland. The film starts with a staged a cappella performance by neopagan chorister Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson, who is brusquely interrupted by the title. Short interviews punctuate explosive performances by various bands who neither receive nor necessitate introduction. The wonderfully wacky world of Icelandic experimental film is also briefly touched upon.

Whether it was intentional or not, Friðriksson has created the perfect musical time capsule here, a fragment of the past preserved purely by its haecceity. These days, Iceland has one of the most influential music scenes in the world, proven by the popularity of international stars such as Sigur Rós, múm and Björk (who appears as a feisty 15-year-old in the film). Consequently, it makes for hilarious viewing to see how homogenised the scene was 25 years ago. When teenage singer Bjarni Þórðarson takes an axe to his... well, axe, in a precocious act of rebellion, it seems to encapsulate the frustration of this compromise of identity. This is reflected in the fashion too: despite all the studded leather jackets and spiky wristbands, almost everyone in the film is wearing at least one item of knitwear. Girls are even seen knitting peacefully at these high-energy gigs. The music may not be to everyone’s tastes, but only the heartless will fail to be absorbed by the raw passion in these musician’s performances.

Thursday, 29 October 2009


Simultaneously a psychedelic film experience and a candid paean to the nation of Armenia, 27-minute abstract documentary We begins by colliding short shots of explosions and crumbling mountains with close-ups of the steady arms of pallbearers, carrying a coffin through a crowd. A palindromic shot shows the crowd swaying to and fro, no individual discernible. The filthy, uneven fingernails of manual labourers are seen whitening with pressure as they work tirelessly on various heavy-duty tasks – some pull guy ropes, some lift rocks. A lion is seen skulking in a cage, its jaw frozen impatiently in a permanent growl. A man defiantly carries a sheep up a mountain. Candles are lit as throngs of people climb a hill in a funeral procession. The last third of the film focuses mostly on the faces of people mourning and families reuniting, interrupted by further explosions.

Director Artavazd Peleshian is frequently noted as a significant influence on Jean-Luc Godard, the man who helped bring his name to the public’s attention, and there are occasional flashes of stylistic similarities in We. The film also brings to mind two silent documentaries – Manhatta (1921) and Berlin: Symphony Of A Great City (1927), both of which share We’s staunch patriotism. Peleshian presents us with a sensitive précis of the Armenian personality, showing the population as they soldier on with their lives despite the encircling grief of a national tragedy (the Armenian Genocide is hinted at). We may be short, but Peleshian’s contrapuntal editing style packs an emotional punch.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009


An acknowledged influence on Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece Taxi Driver, this film follows the story of Narsingh, a ballsy cabbie whose two greatest loves are his 1930 Chrysler and his Rajput ancestry. When he inadvertently cuts off the district inspector, his attempts to smooth talk his way out of the situation land him in further trouble and his licence is revoked. Without his car, Narsingh feels lost and takes it upon himself to hitchhike to Rajasthan, where he encounters artful businessman Sukhanram who hires him to transport a consignment of opium. After some hesitation, he accepts and soon finds himself on a steady decline into a world of immorality. Throughout the tale, Narsingh’s pattern of self-destruction and irresolution is mirrored in the women who catch his eye. Neeli, a steadfast prostitute, bears the brunt of his frustrations, while village girl Gulabi brings out every guarded grain of optimism from him.

Best known for his low-budget, world-class Apu trilogy, director Satyajit Ray displays here a mature and confident style, creating for us a turbulent, dichotomous journey to share with the protagonist and fleshing out every character with the open wistfulness frequently seen in Italian neorealism. The photography makes for a pleasant surprise, and there are some particularly memorable images of Mama Bhagne, the rock said to carry everyone’s sin. Actor Soumitra Chatterjee does a superb job in the lead role, his expressive face saying more than a thousand lines could, while classical beauty Waheeda Rehman illuminates the screen with an award-worthy performance.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009


Produced by the infamous mockbuster powerhouse that is The Asylum (the company responsible for Alien vs. Hunter, The Day The Earth Stopped and Transmorphers), Sunday School Musical takes the basic themes from the similarly named High School Musical franchise, but changes the story to a state competition for school choirs. Our hero Zach belongs to the hippest choir in the neighbourhood, but when his mother reveals that she lost her job, he is forced to transfer to rival school Crossroads Christian, whose choir leaves much to be desired. With his spunky never-give-up attitude, Zach manages to pull Crossroads Choir from obscurity and, against all odds, manages to forge a compromise with his moral integrity despite apparently betraying his old friends.

Considering the budget, the film appears well-made. This, of course, is where the compliments end. The filmmakers may have had their heart in the right place, but the whole experience is a nauseating wreck. Attempts to discreetly work Christian values into the ethos of coolness are embarrassingly noticeable, and subsequently little effort is made to generate realistic chemistry between any of the characters. Chris Chatman gives an admirable stab as lead character Zach, but there is almost nothing believable about him – that someone with apparent musical invincibility could be wowed by a guy playing Amazing Grace on harmonica says a lot for the film’s priorities. Candise Lakota, who plays Zach’s love interest Savannah, is completely devoid of charm, passion or even signs of life. Not so much moralistic as emetic.