Sunday, 31 January 2010


Adapted from the much-loved children’s book, Where The Wild Things Are follows Max, a mischievous 9-year-old who finds great difficulty in connecting with others. After a day of feeling neglected by his family, Max dons a wolf costume and playfully bites his mother on the shoulder, but when she reacts by yelling at him, he runs away from the house. Tears cascading from his eyes, he finds a dilapidated boat, and sails through the night until he comes across an island. His insatiable curiosity leads him to a forest where he encounters the Wild Things, a group of large monsters with animalistic traits. Though initially sceptical, the Wild Things accept Max’s childish bravado as a noble characteristic and declare him their new king. But just as Max believes he has this microcosm under his control, his new friends prove to be more vulnerable than expected.

The film is gorgeous to look at, and the extensive efforts put into animating the Wild Things appropriately have definitely paid off. Director Spike Jonze captures precious flickers of humanity through the character of Max, and at no point in the film does he appear more precocious than necessary. However, there is something a little off about Where The Wild Things Are. Whether it’s the fact that the Wild Things themselves are too rational to be as ‘wild’ as Max’s imagination, or the overwhelming sense of self-righteous hipness, the film feels incomplete, and it’s more than likely a result of the film’s hasty child-oriented revision.

Saturday, 30 January 2010


‘Bugchasing’ describes the practice of actively seeking sex with HIV-positive men, with the express goal of contracting the disease oneself. It is this shocking act which is the subject of Louise Hogarth’s hour-long documentary The Gift. The film goes for the jugular in its portrayal of the facts, opening with an impassioned cry for help from Doug, a gay man who has just learnt that his promiscuity has left him with the disease. Several other case studies reveal naïveté regarding the health risks involved with unprotected sex, and a general misunderstanding of the devastating effects of being HIV-positive. We also meet the individuals who celebrate their disease, tattooing themselves with the biohazard symbol and throwing ‘conversion’ parties. Members of the LGBT community form a vox pop throughout the film to contextualise the issue in mainstream homosexual culture.

Hogarth’s exposé has the best interests at heart, but it is often hard to take seriously as some of the interviewees show a lack of solemnity for the subject. Facts and glossary definitions appear on screen embellished with excessive graphics and house music, as if glamorising the subject. HIV is mentioned repeatedly, but the film does not go far enough in illustrating how damaging it is beyond throwing out the occasional statistic. Nonetheless, it does serve as a vital cautionary tale for an apparently uninformed minority group, as well as conveying a more universal message about trust and health. The Gift provides insight on a fortunately rare practice, but could have gone further.


We start this absurdist comedy in the bedroom of Gert Hammond. Heavily inebriated, Gert potters about her room in a state, talking to herself. When a woman named Willene knocks on the door asking for help, Gert tearfully rushes through her make-up and lets her in. Despite her apparently panicked state before entering, Willene decides that she simply must bathe the tousled Gert, and winds up masturbating her in the process. These events set a precedent for the rest of the evening, as several other strange guests invite themselves into the house. The group’s conversation quickly turns to sexual matters, as one man discusses his wife’s horrific death while being fellated by another guest. As some of the guests venture around Gert’s house, they uncover secrets from her past, and the evening takes a turn for the more sinister.

While quite unique in several respects, combining aimless non sequiturs with hardcore scenes, Thundercrack! is not as valuable as it should be. Whereas other underground films transcend their technical shortcomings with charm and character, this one struggles to engage its audience beyond voyeurism. Though the first act sets a promising tone, the film quickly transforms into a brain-dead version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. There are rare flashes of brilliance, but the film is so technically inept as to erase any doubt that they were unintentional. Sterile and unimaginative, this jagged sex comedy misses the camp idiosyncrasies of George Kuchar’s other works, and is far too long at 158 minutes.

Thursday, 28 January 2010


Comprising just one take, this bizarre independent film tells the story of a group of extortionists who prey on a family living out in the sticks in Colombia. The three men are ruthless in their methods, tearing the children from their bedrooms and tying them up in the living room. After it is revealed that the family is poor, the men are far from sympathetic, attaching a collar bomb to the mother’s neck in a shameless act of terrorism before fleeing the scene. Determined not to live in fear, the family alerts the nearest bomb squad and travels across land and river to meet them. But amidst their tenacious struggle, there are constant reminders that everything could go horribly wrong in an instant.

The film is (rather upsettingly) based on a real-life story and, in refusing to make a single cut, director Spiros Stathoulopoulos does not contrive action, instead telling the story from the perspective of the family by absorbing every single second of terror. But as much as it holds the viewer’s attention, it is hard to know what this film wants to say. The obvious question to ask is what role the camera plays as it dances around the terrorists and captures the family’s tears up close. It could be a statement pressuring the media to present such tragedies in unedited form, but this is a generous suggestion as it mostly appears to be played for entertainment. Shocking and gut-wrenching, PVC-1 is certainly not to be taken lightly.


Raising questions about the commoditisation of minority cultures, this feature-length documentary concerns the Haisla people of British Columbia in Canada. The titular artefact is a large mortuary totem pole, commissioned by Eagle Chief G’psgolox in honour of his dead family. In the late 1920s, the pole mysteriously went missing, but was discovered some sixty years later to have been sold by an anonymous unauthorised tipster to the Swedish government, who had placed it in the centre of an ethnographic museum in Stockholm. The film traces the story of the Haisla from the formation of their modern identity to their contemporary struggles to protect their culture. Most of the interviewees hail from the Haisla Nation, specifically from the village of Kitimaat, from where the pole was taken.

Filmmaker Gil Cardinal is a Métis himself (that is to say, of mixed European and First Nation heritage), and the documentary consequently shows great respect for its subject. Cardinal shares the Haisla’s indignation at the revelation that the Swedish government agreed to return the pole under the condition that they house it in a museum themselves, in conflict with Haisla tradition. A short video sequence showing two Haisla dignitaries visiting the pole in Sweden is a poignant moment in an otherwise sedate documentary. Outsiders may feel that more of the Haisla culture should have been explained (for example, how its members feel about adopting European names), but the film otherwise fulfils its duty. A sequel was produced in honour of the pole’s triumphant return.