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Broken (2012/IV)
5 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Britain has never looked so grim, 9 July 2013

Theatre director Rufus Norris borrows from the tropes of classic kitchen sink melodramas for his ambitious filmmaking debut. A film so relentlessly grey and grim that it could only ever be British.

As in Harper Lee's visionary coming-of-age novel To Kill A Mockingbird, Broken projects an image of a woebegone society through naïve eyes. Played with astonishing poignancy by newcomer Eloise Laurence, our protagonist is the cheerfully named Skunk, a cheery and inquisitive 11-year-old girl whose wide-eyed worldview is eradicated one day when she returns home from school to witness her belligerent neighbour Bob Oswald (Rory Kinnear) assaulting mentally challenged neighbour Rick (Robert Emms) who is falsely accused of raping Bob's lying, malevolent daughter. In turmoil, Skunk turns to her older brother Jed (Bill Milner), live-in au pair Kasia (Zana Marjanovic), kind schoolteacher Mike (Cillian Murphy) and doting father Archie (a fatigued Tim Roth) for solace; unbeknownst to her that this is only the start of what will be a life changing and unremittingly traumatic summer.

Set almost entirely behind the three closed doors of this small cul-de-sac, Norris and screenwriter Mark O'Rowe are blithe voyeurs; looking through the keyholes of a contemporary British society without giving us much in the way of reflexive social commentary. Instead of providing an authenticated, perhaps more neutered presentation of London suburbia, the constant lashings of disquieting drama make Broken look and feel like a particularly depressing feature-length soap opera.

Adapted from Daniel Clay's novel, the twisty plots are exhaustively interweaved for the screen – and at such a breakneck pace – that performances and small character nuances are left underdeveloped, culminating in a clichéd dream sequence which attempts to suggest narrative equilibrium, but falls short of mawkish contrivance.

The one beacon of light in all this darkness is Skunk's blossoming relationship with Dillon (played by fellow newbie George Sargeant), a shoot-from-the-hip young vagabond who longs to whisk her away to sunny Florida. Achieving a goofy, but moving first-love chemistry, their performances together give this black-hearted film a beating heart, and their schmaltzy, Disneyfied pipedreams some legs. After all, anything is better than 'Broken Britain'.

12 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
A severe, sombre social commentary, 20 April 2013

-- Review originally published at --

Acclaimed Berlinale Golden Bear award winning debut Harmony Lessons makes it's way to the CPH PIX Film Festival. A terse, gruelling Darwinian drama, and just about the best film I've seen so far this year.

We're first introduced to lonesome thirteen-year-old Aslan (Timur Aidarbekov) while he chases a bouncing sheep across his grandmother's farm. It's a playful sequence, totally transformed when – with an unnerving stoney complexion – Aslan proceeds to capture the ewe, slit it's throat and prepare it for food. Perhaps it's a normalised, essential activity in bucolic Kazakhstan, but it's nevertheless a poetic foreshadowing of the savagery we will soon witness.

Life in the classroom is far from peachy for Aslan either. After a malicious sex-ed prank leaves him humiliated and ostracised, he's left wandering alone in the shadows of the school corridors. Like any institution, there is a strict hierarchy here. Top of the wolf pack and chief tormentor is Bolat (Alsna Anarbayev) who, with his team of subservient wing-men, run an underground extortion circuit; swiping money from the smaller school kids, and passing it upwards to those older and taller than he. Meanwhile, the OCD suffering Aslan returns to his home chambers every night to conduct callous scientific experiments on the defenceless insects that populate his decrepit home. When these acts of brutality no longer suffice, Aslan calculates a scheme that he hopes will overthrow the horrendous autocracy.

Baigazan exhorts a great deal of ingenuity into the ripe Lord of the Flies rehash premise, even if his necessity for allegory may be considered to some as a little belaboured. An adept purveyor of cinematic symmetry, he uses the drab school compound to reflect the prismatic, oppressive and religiously conflicted society these youths will soon be forced into. But, for now, they are still precarious teenagers; cloaked in ill-fitting school uniforms like would-be mafioso clobber. This is no song-and-dance Bugsy Malone, however. Framed with morbid fascination by cinematographer Aziz Zhambakiyev, the situation is observed rather than explored, with Aslan kept at such an objective distance that he is presented as more of an emotionally vapid wild beast than a despairing child. Found by Baigazan in a children's shelter, there's such a haunting sincerity to Timur Aidarbekov's performance that the social unrest subtext is palpable to all, and – despite your eagerness to look away – the tragedy is so cinematically entrancing that you won't be able to.

As writer, director and editor, cineaste Baigazan's debut is enriched with nods to other filmmakers, deploying a Bresson-like moral economy to the portrait of grim suburban schooling, mixed with the severity of the Dardenne Brothers' L'infant, and subtle glimpses of Tarkovsky's oneiric surrealism come the film's beguiling, unforgettable end. Even still, Baigazan is working within his own aesthetic realm, with a rare, vehemently grim portrait of life in Kazakhstan. Primitive and poetic, Harmony Lessons tackles the universal theme of angst-riddled adolescence and merciless social autonomy to both cruel and beautiful aplomb.

-- Review originally published at --

21 out of 43 people found the following review useful:
Standard Have Fallen, 17 April 2013

Oh no, it's happened again, we're on the brink of World War III. Fear not, Frame Loopers, for the Land of the Free and Gerard Butler are here to seize the day!

The allegedly hunky Scot stars as Mike Banning, the former head of security for the universally adored President Asher (Aaron Eckhart). After a fatal accident eighteen months ago leaves the Asher family in tatters, the disgraced Banning is pushed back to a side-line government role. Meanwhile at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, a clan of highly skilled North Korean terrorists infiltrate the world's most fortified house without hiccup, and take the president hostage. Not only do they want American forces to withdraw their support for South Korea, they intend to use the States' own nukes to turn the nation into a destitute wasteland. With the acting president, House Speaker Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), and the rest of Team America in dire straits, it's left to the broad-shouldered Banning to use his Intel and military expertise to save the President – nay, the world – as we know it.

With the spin surrounding a potential North Korea nuclear attack, seeing this star-spangled, preposterously right wing American film is a little discomforting. Not because it is an intelligent and harrowingly coincidental portrayal of the current situation, but because one can imagine gun-toting Americans taking some sort of solace in this inherently prejudicial picture.

Directed by Training Day's Antoine Fuqua, it's a clunky, 'one man vs. the world' procedural which plays out like a deviant adaptation of Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six series, mixed together with Die Hard. Unlike Bruce Willis, Butler is so devoid of humour or charm that his boisterous action-hero shtick – not to mention a sketchy American accent – are excruciating.

Relying on bloodied fight sequences and shoddy CGI explosions, the supporting cast (including Oscar winning Melissa Leo) are given nothing in the way of a good script or space to show off their acting credentials. Instead, they're left hanging off the screen looking either despondent or aghast. After stomaching this two-hour snooze fest – so drenched in American jingoism – I was beginning to share their pain.

5 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Goofy gangster fun, 17 April 2013

--Review originally published at

Jam-packed with lofty art-house endeavours, CPH PIX Film Festival proves it has a soft-spot for feel good cinema with presentation of Adam Leon's impressive, Kickstarter funded debut, Gimme the Loot.

Presented by The Silence of the Lambs' director Jonathan Demme, the SXSW favourite is a platonic relationship comedy about a pair of aspiring, Bronx-based graffiti artists, Sofia (Tashiana Washingthon) and Malcolm (Ty Hickson). Discovering that a rival gang has trashed their turf, the pair hatch a plan to 'bomb the apple', AKA to tag the New York Mets' Home Run Apple at Citi Field stadium. It's a tough, nonsensical mission – the likes of which have been attempted in real life for the last twenty years, to no avail – but one that our teenage whippersnappers think they have the prowess to conquer. But first they need to raise $500 as a bribe for a guard at the ballpark.

And so sets off a picaresque pursuit for the dollar. Candidly shot across New York's Bronx and Manhattan neighborhoods (presumably without production permits), they hoist in a little help from their small-time gangster buddies for a series of heists and loots. Apparently anything sells in New York, so the savvy Sofia pawns off half empty spray cans, second-hand cell phones and used Nike sneaks while, a few blocks away, the scrappy Malcolm goes rogue with a pot dealers' weed and sells the stash to rich BoHo chick, Ginnie (Zoe Lescaze, looking much like a young Sissy Spacek). Invited in for a little tomfoolery, the inexperienced Malcolm is instantly besotted with her, but it won't stop him from swiping her extensive jewellery collection.

Allegedly taking influence from Raymond Abrashkin's iconic 1953 Coney Island classic Little Fugitive, writer-director Leon tells the featherweight story with tremendous zeal and a curiously observational approach, that is more akin to the French New Wave than the typical American indy. His New York is not of the resplendent Woody Allen persuasion, nor that of Scorsese's foggy urban sprawl. If anything, Leon presents the city like the warts-and-all melting pot that it really is, which is once again reflected in the diverse soundtrack's blend of R&B, experimental rock and original East Coast hip-hop.

While the graffiti surface story stinks of adolescent desperation, it is very much a red herring to the real story of oblivious teenage angst and love. Their first starring roles, newcomers Washington and Hickson have an exuberant chemistry together, which makes their covertly flirtatious banter and naturalistic prattling all the more charming, and the stagnated climax at the very least tolerable.

Gimme the Loot is somewhat of a rarity. Nonjudgemental of his protagonists, Leon's debut is a sweet natured gangster flick which neither glorifies thug life nor condemns it. It's slight, knowingly goofy filmmaking – the likes of which are so rare in modern, message-laden cinema - and proves the young débutant, his impressive cast and cinematographer Jonathan Miller as promising future talents.

--Review originally published at

Pieta (2012)
11 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
Disturbing retelling of grief and Greek Tragedy, 15 April 2013

- Review originally posted at The Frame Loop. Visit -

Even before the first image of an ominously hanging, rusty hook, Pieta comes to CPH PIX Film Festival with a great deal of infamy. The latest from South Korean, art-house provocateur Kim Ki Duk (3-Iron, The Isle) this unnerving revenge drama wowed last year's Venice Film Festival jury so much that it went on to beat Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master to the coveted Golden Lion award. Is it a better film than that aptly titled PTA project? Absolutely not. Is Pieta a gritty, harrowing and wholly engrossing exercise in cinematic tolerance? You're damn right it is.

Li Jung-Jin stars as Kang-Do, the merciless henchman to a crooked Seoul loan shark. Living in a threadbare apartment, with a diet consisting of half-cooked meat, he scuttles across the city, ruffling up people's feathers and making sure they pay up their debts, or else suffer the brutal consequences. His lonesome, pitiful existence is transformed by the arrival of Mi-Sun (Jo Min-Soo), an elderly woman claiming to be his estranged mother. Seeking repentance and the love of the inhumane monster she birthed and abandoned, the disbelieving Kang-Do puts her through a slew of horrific tests that will prove their bloodline, from eating dismembered body parts, to unsolicited incest. Boundaries are crossed, taboos busted open, and a repugnant relationship ensues.

Despite the industrial slum setting and the subtext of tooth/limbless capitalism, Pieta conforms to a typical Greek tragedy plot line. With each revelation more traumatic and sickening than the last, Kim tells the story with brute emotional force and savagery, without ever resorting to the ultra-violence made so common in South Korean cinema from the likes of Park Chan-Wook and The Vengeance Trilogy. While Jo Young-Jik's curious hand-held cinematography may look away from the most distressing of graphic acts, the pain lingers on the screen through Li and Jo's fantastic, expressionistic acting. The pair have a terse, inflammatory chemistry which is so enthralling that the mother-son relationship is all the more sickening.

Perhaps the film's success in Europe isn't all that surprising. Tackling the cruel storyline through emotional heft – without the archetypal glossy production values of the region - Pieta could be mistaken for a Lars von Trier or Gaspar Noé project. With a sublime first act, Kim gets lost in the knotty narrative he has laid out before him, and ties everything up in a stirring denouement that brings some genuine heart to the otherwise pitiful portrait of dog-eat-dog, Seoul city-living.

In that brilliant opening third, Mi-Sun turns to Kang-Do to denounce money as the 'beginning and the end of all things: love, honour, violence, fury, hatred, jealousy, revenge, death.' Unsavoury topics abound, Kim Ki-Duk combats them all with severe conviction in Pieta. If you can stomach such callousness, then this is diatribe is well worth a watch.

- Review originally posted at The Frame Loop. Visit -

7 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Panahi returns, more scathing, reflexive and indulgent than ever, 11 April 2013

Directed alongside fellow Iranian and the criminally underrated filmmaker Kambuzia Partovi, Panahi's latest manifests the same vehemence for the tyrannical Iranian government as in last year's deconstructionist documentary This Is Not A Film. His first full length feature film since 2006′s brilliant Offside, Closed Curtain is a more aggressively political comment on the creative restrictions he has bestowed on him, and his unrelenting perseverance to conquer them.

With the Iranian government banning citizens from owning dogs as domestic pets (harrowingly, a true sanction), an unnamed screen-writer (played expertly here by co-director Partovi) flees to a remote beachside villa with his furry best friend, a beautiful little dog called 'Boy'. In constant fear that he will be caught – with the dog left for dead – the erratic scribe quite literally shuns the outside world, barricading the doors and blacking out the windows. Stuck in their new, isolated sanctuary, the man and dog are paid an unexpected visit by two young Iranians (Maryam Moqadam and Hadi Saeedi). Like our hero, they too are on the run from corrupt state officials.

Forty-five minutes in, the austere, naturalistic situation is dispelled by an indulgent second half with many increasingly odd moments. These include the visionary's quintessential reflexive streams of consciousness moments; a break in the fourth wall with Panahi's jarring on-screen presence; and a discombobulating critique on the very unorthodox nature of filmmaking and hiding from the reality that lies beyond the camera lens. Some of these moments are unnerving in all the right, satirical ways, whereas some of these 'experiments' are so dispiritingly chaotic that one would think they were coming from filmmakers of far younger vintage.

In one particularly seething encounter, a friend of Panahi's suggests to the on-screen director that there is more to life than work; to which the candid director suggests that all other things are 'foreign' to him. After countless censorship cases and one two year long house arrest, it's perhaps unsurprising that Jafar Panahi is so entrenched in – and haunted by – his nefarious creations that he has become removed to the life outside. Stuck on a critical parapet, Closed Curtain takes a panoptic glance at silenced Iranian society, without ever feeling like he is gallantly speaking for it as he has done previously with Crimson Tide and The Circle. The result means that this clunky social commentary feels like it can only resonate in an audience of a similar distance – that of a Scandinavian film festival, perhaps – rather than the homegrown audience he has become the audacious patron of.

Despite an endearing first half, the drama wallows for too long in opaque political allegories and slight-of-hand trickery. Considering the limitations and policing these filmmakers encounter on a daily basis, it seems churlish to quarrel about the film's production values. Even still, it must be noted that Closed Curtain has some of the most horrendous sound recording and mixing I've witnessed in recent memory.

Forgetting these flaws, there is one half of an exceptional, poetic drama hiding behind the curtain here. An alienated chamber piece, Panahi and Partovi highlight the grave situation facing artists and freedom of expression in an otherwise oppressive Iranian regime. For, as long as they continue to fight the system from within and make films, I am happy to watch and recommend them.

3 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
A mix of Scorsese, Malick & Nuri Bilge Ceylan, THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES is an ambitious, but uneven drama., 10 April 2013

Following 2010's chamber love(loss) drama Blue Valentine, filmmaker Derek Cianfrance returns in more virtuosic style with The Place Beyond the Pines.

Don't let the tomfoolery of gross mis-marketing fool you. Despite the somewhat frenzied trailers and occasional heist-turned-motorcycle chases, Cianfrance's latest is just as hermetic and character driven as his last. Wrestling with themes of familial disconnect and moral ineptitude, the exhausting 140 minute running time swims around all of these ideas without ever attacking them head-on. Nurture vs. nature, it bears some mercurial resemblance to Terrence Malick's recent The Tree of Life, only this time with a few more drugs and a few less dinosaurs.

It kicks off with Ryan Gosling as Luke, a nomadic motorcycle stunt rider in a travelling carnival show. Finishing up one night of dizzying feats, he stumbles into former lover Romina (Eva Mendes), who drops a colossal bombshell telling him that, after one night of passion a year ago, he now has a son. Stunned, the capricious Luke quits the stunt game and uses his 'motobandit' skills to pull a series of bank robberies.

Following 45 minutes of masterful crime-drama storytelling, Cianfrance segues into a phlegmatic middle chapter when we're introduced to law-school graduate turned ambitious police officer Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper). The law enforcer is quickly on our antihero's tail, while the venal police department he works for wait for him surreptitiously in the wings. The third, redemptive instalment to the story looks at the fatal impact and legacy that the two hunks' confrontation has had on the present day, and the prism of deceit, corruption and hidden truths that continue to whistle through the trees of Schenectady New York, aka 'the place beyond the pines'.

Just as in Blue Valentine, Cianfrance proves himself to be a quintessential 'actor's director', coalescing with his cast to create a handful of career-best performances. Striking gold twice with Canadian heartthrob Gosling, whom is so entrenched in the intricacies of his character's architecture that the results are quite literally worn on his sleeve and the meticulous, self- designed tattoos. His portrayal of Luke is so enigmatic and alluring that it will distractingly remind you of his turn in Nicholas Winding Refn's 2011 Drive, a superior, but equally cryptic movie.

While her screen-time is limited, Eva Mendes impresses in a testing, warts-and-all performance as the forlorn lover/mother Romina. In a film so emotionally opaque, she resonates as the bare, beating heart of the film. The biggest thespian accolade has to go to Bradley Cooper as the centrepiece player of the story. Unlike the smouldering Gosling, the Silver Linings Playbook star uses deafening silence to present his character's complexity and moral dilemma, rather than cloak it. Two great films in a row, it's a shame he will next be gracing multiplex cinemas with the turgid end to The Hangover trilogy, as he certainly has an indisputable dramatic aptitude.

The support are also on top form, most notably Australian sideliner Ben Mendelsohn as a grimy mechanic looking for a quick buck, and the inexplicably menacing, young hopeful Dane DeHaan, whose character we meet in the lacklustre final story. In fact, the only entirely redundant on-screen performance comes from Ray Liotta, phoning it in with the same bad guy mobster shtick we have seen from him countless times before, and really have no desire to see again.

Director of photography Sean Bobbitt (who dazzled previously working on Steve McQueen's Shame and Hunger) brings more fervour to the picture with cinematography that is plush when it needs to be, and claustrophobic during the more intense narrative moments. Sonically, Faith No More/Ipecac Records nut Mike Patton puts in a similarly frantic score to some success but, like some of his musical endeavours, is prone to being aggressively distracting.

Cianfrance's ambition is admirable, and he certainly has an idiosyncratic style that nestles in somewhere between early day Scorsese, Terrence Malick and Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Unfortunately, nothing here holds together long enough to be a consistently involving movie. For every great cinematic moment, there's two steps back, with croaky script beats and what appears to be a complete lack of post-production editing prowess. Overpacked and exhausting, The Place Beyond the Pines is certainly a place worth visiting, but it's not the accomplished masterpiece it deserved to be.

More reviews, interviews and other things at The Frame Loop:

4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
A star is born, 7 April 2013

Far from the swinging sixties, filmmaker Sally Potter's depiction of a 1962 London is a far more sobering affair, with food and work scarce, tireless peace protesters, and the increasing threat of a Cuban Missile Crisis lingering in the city smog. It's a tough time to be an adult, but seemingly even tougher for two teenage girls in Ginger & Rosa.

Elle Fanning stars as the first titular character, Ginger. Nicknamed as such for her (awfully dyed) rouged hair, she's a fiery character all-round. 17 going on 30, the aspiring poet and leftie activist takes inspiration from the grim life both outside and at home with her bickering mother Natalie (Christina Hendricks) and step father Roland (Alessandro Nivola), a boisterous, but charming boho-academic and once imprisoned pacifist. Outside her turbulent domestic situation is where Ginger really lets loose, embracing nascent womanhood with best friend Rosa (Australian newcomer, Alice Engelt). They live in each other's pockets; scalping fags, shrinking jeans in the bath, attending 'Ban the Bomb' rallies and hitchhiking across rural England. With only her aloof mother at home, Rosa is the more assertive of the pair, hoping to speed through adolescence as quickly as possibly and meet her knight in shining armour. When Cupid strikes his bow in the most unlikely and disturbing of places, Ginger struggles with the realisation that they are not only growing up, but also growing apart.

Still revelling in her critically acclaimed adaptation of Virginia Woolf's Orlando from 1992, Potter's unique art films are so ornate and divisive that at best could be compared to a sumptuous renaissance painting, and at worst shunned as pretentious poppycock. Thankfully, Ginger & Rosa sees Potter toning down her highbrow inhibitions, telling the universal story of rebellious youth through Robbie Ryan's charming, naturalistic cinematography. The nomadic period in the girls' lives is also reflected in the expert use of music, mixing traditional bebop jazz from Charlie Parker with the jaunty Rock & Roll of Little Richard.

Despite these nice flourishes, Potter's casting choices make certain scenes, and entire characters jarring and trite. Particularly hokey is Christina Hendricks, cast against type as the pinny wearing stay-at-home mother, a far cry from the buxom matriarch Joan in Mad Men. Elsewhere, fellow American Nivola lacks the magnetism needed to pull off a nascent father figure, doubling up as an irresistible sex symbol. Fortunately it's not all that bad on the wings, with Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt providing some much needed comic relief as Ginger's genteel godfathers Mark & Mark Two; with Annette Bening as their visiting American poet chum.

Despite some sweet moments, it's often unclear what kind of story Potter is trying to tell. Starting as a small coming-of-age Cold War story, the tension escalates to an embellished and bungling finish.

All that said, there is one shining beacon of majesty in Ginger & Rosa though, and her name is Elle Fanning. The 14-year-old American, and younger sister of The Twilight Saga star Dakota, proves herself an effervescent screen presence, articulating the bulk of the drama while Engelt's Rosa, whom is also impressive, strives to blur it. Not only does she handle the Queen's English with great aplomb, Fanning has a quivering timbre in her voice that is both fragile, yet imperious, and totally representative of a typical teenage girl encroaching on womanhood. If only the performance had been in a different movie, she would have bagged up an Oscar nomination this year. Resembling an almost Meryl Streep-like grace and zealousness, something makes me think we'll be seeing more excellent performances from her in the years to come.

More reviews, interviews and other such stuff over at The Frame Loop:

Parker (2013)
6 out of 19 people found the following review useful:
Silly Stath, smash things, 6 March 2013

There's always something devilishly exciting about a new Jason Statham movie. Sure, it's no Shakespeare, but the baldy British action star has enough charisma and faux-Cockney swagger to make films like The Expendables and the ludicrous Crank series entertaining, in that silly, popcorn-chomping sort of way.

Parker is no exception. Based on the novel 'Flashfire' from Donald E. Westlake's hardboiled crime series, The Stath stars as the eponymous, hard-as-nails master thief with a questionable moral compass and a hulky scarred torso. After leading a successful million dollar heist on a local Ohio state fair, his crackerjack crew turn against him, leaving him bloodied, wounded and left for dead by the roadside. Unfortunately for them, Parker is seemingly indestructible, and limping with a vengeance. Deserting his girlfriend Claire (Emma Booth) and her Mafioso dad (a cameo from the gravelly voiced Nick Nolte), he hunts them down to the lavish Palm Beach Florida, and enlists a fledgling realtor Leslie (Jennifer Lopez), together they hatch a plan to catch his former crew whilst they undertake a jewellery auction heist.

The first thing worthy of mention is that the plot, like all good/bad action B-movies, is utter balderdash. What could a shrill real estate agent know about the criminal underworld? How could The Stath survive a point blank bullet wound to the chest. And, most preposterous of all, how could anyone ever believe the Brit's lame Texan accent? Parker is the sort of film where you need to leave such questions of plausibility at the door, and just enjoy the gaudy action spectacle.

Helmed by the Oscar nominated director of The Devil's Advocate and Ray, Taylor Hackford blends grisly film noir tropes with ultra-violent action set pieces. Getting off to a rollicking start, as the narrative takes prominence, Parker sluggishly tumbles through the two hour running time. It needs a good edit. Although J-Lo's screen presence is magnetic, her character is entirely superfluous, attractive window dressing.

Is it a 'good' film. Of course not! The plot is derivative, the 'stick 'em up!' dialogue cringe- worthy, and the characterisation ignominious. Nevertheless, it's mindless entertainment, which you can't help but succumb to.

More reviews, interviews and other bits at The Frame Loop

The Bay (2012/II)
2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
WTF is going on? x 100, 1 March 2013

Like any commercial industry, film follows trends. Along with superheroes, the other trend that has been bothering multiplexes cinema screens over the last ten or so years is the faux-found footage schtick. From the groundbreaking Blair Witch Project, up to the abysmal Generation X, it's been an appropriately shaky gimmick, but hopefully Barry Levinson's 'eco-horror' The Bay will be the final nail in the coffin.

The chameleonic director behind the phenomenally casted thriller Sleepers, and satire Wag the Dog, Levinson's latest is his first ever straight up horror flick; a mock polemic that perfectly fits the found footage aesthetic. In the summer of 2009, the idyllic provincial town of Chesapeake Bay, Maryland was put into red light crisis mode when an unknown sea critter infected the water supply. Quickly enough, people start showing signs of infection, from rashes, to swellings and bugs crawling out of places where bugs should not be crawling out of. The entire town is shut down, and things start to get even more desperate as people fight for survival and dead bodies start crowding the streets. Right after the crisis, the government confiscated all video footage and proof of the crisis, but good old WikiLeaks has managed to release some of the evidence. Now it's up to aspiring reporter and survivor Donna (Kether Donohue) to tell the world the shocking truth.

His first foray into horror, Levinson handles the required jumps and tonal unease well, whilst also using the sloshy found footage aesthetic with such panache that you feel like you're watching a trashy TV documentary, minus the ad-breaks corny voice-over.

For all the daringness of the directing, it doesn't stop The Bay from being an incredibly ugly and unfulfilled film. Because the story is played out in a mockumentary format, neither the characters, nor the audience have any idea what is going on. Just like the Dogme '95 movement, every found footage movie breaks it's limited format in the post- production department, with heavy jump cuts ladened with the routine suspense music of Marcelo Zarvos.

Following Soderbergh's Contagion, perhaps there is a new, icky trend in the eco/epidemic horror. However, the experience of seeing The Bay is just like any uninspired modern horror (and there are many). Sitting in the darkness watching purposefully shitty quality footage for a thankfully short 84 minutes, you're gingerly waiting for the next scare, rather than getting anything truly transgressive narrative depth or momentum.

After some disappointing comedies and TV movie work, it's great to see Levinson given the chance to tell stories on the big screen, even if The Bay is best suited for a home viewing. Whatever you do, don't start a google image search of the film's villainous aqua critter. I found the footage, but I really wish I'd left it lost.

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