The Wild Bunch -- The Aftermaths and Realities of Violence


                                     Most of the modern day, shoot-‘em-up action movies resemble the nihilistic comics. No complexity is shown in weaving the characterization of these violent men. Forty five years ago, when Sam Peckinpah’s violent epic “The Wild Bunch” released it caused quite a stir. It’s gritty, uncompromising style and the harsh depiction of Wild West made Motion Picture Association of America to slap the film with an NC- 17 rating (released later as “director’s cut”) and held up the film's re-release for many months. Sam Peckinpah, one of the greatest American directors, was always accused of romanticizing or glorifying violence. Although one can’t deny that fact, his movies are not just about getting people killed. He told intense tales of male bonding, where honor and loyalty remained as the changeless codes. In films like “Straw Dogs”, “Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia” and “Wild Bunch” he set out to demythologize the American hero figure. He has also influenced a generation of film-makers like John Woo, Quentin Tarantino etc.  

                                   Some of the critics perceived “The Wild Bunch” as a political allegory of America’s constant political intervention in political countries. Peckinpah said that, “I am just trying to tell a simple tale about bad men in changing times.” Allegory or not, this film turned violence into a haunting poetry and summed up the corruption of guilt in the Old West. The film is set in the year 1913, when US cautiously watched over from its border, while Pancho Villa (Mexican revolutionary leader) tormented the corrupt Mexican Government. It was also the era, when outlaw gangs were intently pursued by lawmen, and the Wild West got slowly tamed down by civilization. At this time, a gang of soldiers arrives at a small south Texas town of San Rafael. A group of grimy children giggle as they watch a scorpion being eaten alive by a colony of red ants. Amidst the soldier’s arrival, the bourgeoisie people of the town are holding a temperance meeting. The soldiers enter the railroad office, but suddenly start to rob the office of its cash receipts.


                                Pike Bishop (William Holden) is the leader of this group, an aged but ruthless leader. He and his men has planned this heist to little details (like the soldier attire), but what they don't know is that it's a setup. The money bags don’t have any coins and dozens of gun-toting bounty hunters and railroad men are hiding behind each of the building. In that same time, the townsmen start to parade down the street. What ensues is a bloody shootout, in which numerous innocent citizens are caught in the crossfire. After losing four men, the gang escapes the town with the bounty hunters hot on their trail. The failed attempt makes Pike to feel his age. Pike’s right-hand man is Dutch (Ernest Borgnine), another veteran outlaw.

                              Other members of the gang are Sykes (Edmond O'Brien), Angel (Jaime Sanchez), and the Gorch Brothers (Warren Oates and Ben Johnson). One important member and friend of Pike has gone missing: Thornton (Robert Ryan). Thornton was arrested because of a mistake made by Pike and now he seems to be commanding the mercenaries, who are hunting down his old buddies. Knowing that Thornton is on their trail, Pike plans for one last heist before retirement. They meet with a corrupt Mexican general (Emilio Fernandez) and his German allies. The general offers them a job: to rob a shipment guns the US army sends by railroad. Whether they rob the train or not, Pike knows that this job won’t end with them riding off in the sunset.


                             Sam Peckinpah and Walon Green’s script is interested in giving a mirthful account of chaos, corruption, and defeat. One of the important recurring themes is loyalty. The script observes the irony of maintaining a code of honor in an immoral world. Pike summarizes the theme in one scene, “When you side with a man, you stay with him.” The script also relates the violence surrounding the children. The eyes of children brim with a sadistic glee, as they pit red ants against scorpions, and finally set fire to all the combatants. It shows how the violence around them is slowly corrupting their souls. At the same time, this scene is also a metaphor for what’s going to happen to the outlaws in the end. The children in this film are not used as emblem of innocence. The children of Texas are curious onlookers of violence, but when the story travels to Mexico, we could see that the hardships of continual violence setting up a transition, which makes the kids from an observer to participant; they too start waving guns in the name of revolution.


                            “The Wild Bunch” could be just viewed as a great action movie. Multiple angles and quick cuts, body counts and edge-of-the-seat shootouts and other traditional elements of the genre is a testimony to its greatness. However, Peckinpah’s showcase of violence repulses a viewer rather than exhilarates – as in an action movie. Unlike in a John Woo movie, blood spilled here doesn’t makes us relish in enjoy; instead it makes us think. The shootouts portray the harsh reality that everyone is vulnerable, whether they are good guys or the bad guys, they are liable to die. 

                          “The Wild Bunch” (145 minutes) revitalized the dying Western genre, launching some interesting films. Its dissection of violence remains thought provoking and horrifying rather than exalting. 

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Philomena -- The Tenacity of Faith and Forgiveness


                                   When you hear that “Philomena” – released during the awards season – is a tale of woman, in search of the son who was taken from her nearly five decades earlier, you might think that this is one of the human interest story which baits for Oscars or any other prestigious awards. Especially, when you have the beloved cinematic figure like Judi Dench, cast in the lead role and furthermore, throw in British comic actor Steve Coogan and a road-movie plot structure, you could swear that it is a calculated crowd-pleaser. Yes, Stephen Frears’ “Philomena” (2013), based on Martin Sixsmith’s book, “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee” tends to please the crowd, but not without taking a political bite, drawing parallels between the vicious treatment of young unwed mothers in 1950s Ireland and of gay AIDS patients in the United States a few decades later. The expected sentimental pay-offs are there, but at the same time, it is a subtly told tale that shovels contextual questions out of a real-life tabloid story. “Philomena” also represents the comeback for director Stephen Frears (“The Queen”, “Dirty Pretty Things”) and Coogan, whose good comedic skills, didn't much broke through the big screen.

                               The movie starts with Martin Six Smith (Steve Coogan), an ex-BBC Moscow correspondent, who has been ousted by Tony Blair’s government over an unfortunate e-mail. With abundant time in his hands, Martin says he is going to write a book about Russian history and not very interested in doing it. Then we get introduced to Philomena (Judi Dench), who recalls what happened to her in the 1950’s. As a teenager, she gets pregnant after having a fling with a boy she met at a fair. Her parents disown her and send her to an Irish convent. Philomena gives birth to her son, Anthony and for the next three years, she serves virtually as a prisoner, toiling for the nuns in by doing laundry as compensation for the costs incurred by her labor.


                            She is coerced by the sisters to give up her 3-year-old son for adoption to some wealthy couples. Half a century later, Philomena is still haunted by the thoughts of her son and wants to find out where her boy is. Philomena is a retired nurse, and has married to have another child. At a party, Philomena’s daughter runs into Martin and she tells her mother’s plight, which might make up for an interesting human interest story. But, Martin initially considers that covering human story piece is beneath his dignity (“I don’t do ‘human interest’ stories, because it’s a euphemism for stories aimed at weak-minded ignorant people”). Nonetheless, he changes his mind and pitches it to an editor (Michelle Fairley) and soon he has an assignment. Martin meets with Philomena and hears her story, takes her to the convent, which yields no information, except for a reminder that Philomena had signed away her rights to any information about Anthony. However, Martin’s investigative instincts make him find that Anthony was adopted by an American couple and was taken to the United States. The editor sends him and Philomena to trace the son, and to either file a story that is fabulously happy or a desperately sad.


                            Philomena Lee’s story was famous because it had unexpected twists and it showed what happened to thousands of Irish girls between the Depression and the late 1960s. It was the time period, when Roman Catholic Churches conducted cultural isolation in Ireland, exercising exercised unchallenged ideological hegemony. It was the time where many unmarried pregnant young woman were abandoned to a system of convent workhouses known as the “Magdalen laundries” and whose babies who were given away to generous donors. But, the movie doesn’t stop at blaming institutional Catholic Church for its chauvinism, it also laments about the equally critical homophobia persecution that has existed and still existing. The final scenes subtly say a lot about faith, repentance, and forgiveness, where Philomena stands tall as the portrait of tolerance, even among the great sisters, who seek the path of God.


                            Steve Coogan’s script contains ample amount trademark dry humor, but mostly he tells the story as it should be told. The mismatched buddy and fish out of traditional water are the regular plot elements that come with this kind of story, which are watered-down to make it less cinematic. Judi Dench, the eminent English stage actress manages the difficult task of causing the audience to care about her exhumation of the past. Coogan really hits the mark here as he witnesses things like devotion and forgiveness, which he doesn’t seem to completely understand. The interactions between both these characters are amusing, especially Martin’s expressions to Philomena’s appetite for romance novels and salad bars.

                         “Philomena” (95 minutes) might seem like a formulaic comedy, filled with overabundant moments of sentiment, but it gains deeper resonance by showing us, how a tormented brave woman responds to cruelty and injustice. 

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Rated PG-13 on appeal for some strong language and sexual references

Snowpiercer -- An Allegorical Post-Apocalyptic Action Movie


                                          ‘All the World is a stage, and all the men and women are merely players’ – Shakespeare’s often cited line could be twisted a little to form the plot line for South Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s allegorical post-apocalyptic movie, “Snowpiercer” (2013): ‘World’s a train, and all the humans are merely passengers.’ Adapted from French cult graphic novel “Le Transperceneige”, ‘Snowpiercer’ marks the English language debut for gifted Korean genre director Bong Joon-ho (“Memories of Murder”, “The Host”, “Mother”) and inspired lot of talks about Harvey Weinstein’s unjustified demand for a 20 minute cut, in an effort to make it more palatable to western crowds. Slotted for an August release (in 2013), the film is finally going to be released in USA on June 24th (with cuts). There is no doubt that “Snowpiercer” poses a trickier marketing challenge: its final cut is too violent and dark for PG-13 rating; and, the film’s top-billed actor Chris Evans, outside his Captain America suit, hasn’t got much of crowd-pulling power. But, the studio’s attempt to dumb it down doesn’t make sense, since many recent, big-budgeted movies like “District 9”, “Life of Pi”, “Gravity” are all constantly expanding the boundaries of a genre, blending in both the art and blockbuster traits.

                                      The events in “Snowpiercer” happen inside a train that travels through a frozen future landscape. How the world’s last remaining survivors ended up in this highly advanced train? We don’t know how, but the why is explained. In 2014, humans in order alleviate the growing threat of global warming launches a chemical substance CW7 into the atmosphere, which only inflicts a reverse reaction, turning every humans into frozen statues, except for the precious few, inside the train. Seventeen years later, in 2031, we see a bunch of grimy-faced have-nots, who are all scrabbling for food in the train’s tail section. The hundreds of tail-section people live a hellish life and are controlled by few gun-toting soldiers. They are fed a slimy-looking protein bar; children are forcibly attempted from the parents and any kind of insurrection s quelled by using cruel methods. Gilliam (John Hurt), the wise elder and Curtis (Chris Evans), a stoic rebel with a dark past are the unofficial leaders of these poor people. Curtis’ second-in command and side-kick is Edgar (Jamie Bell).


                                   The three of them are planning for a rebellion to take control of the train and make it all the way to the perpetual-motion engine. The train with a self-sustainable sacred engine is invented by Wilford (Ed Harris) of Wilford Industries, who seems to be an old pal of Gilliam. Wilford’s second-in command is the fanatical speaker Minister Mason (Tilda Swinton). She and merciless enforcers cannot be easily defeated. The one good thing for the rebels is the cryptic messages they have been arriving from the front section, concealed in the gelatinous protein bars. The message asks them to free a Korean security expert, Namgoong Minsu (Song), from custody in the train’s prison car.


                                 The downtrodden passengers push down their oppressors and free the security expert, to open all the doors ahead. Nam and his plucky 17 year old daughter, Yona (Ko Asung) tag along the group – their reward for opening each door is a fix of the hallucinogenic drug ‘Kronol.’ Later, the rebels clash with a group of axe-wielding men in a narrow place. If you think that the oppressed would push all the oppressors and then live a happy long life (as shown in “Elysium” or “In Time”), think again, because Joon-ho, to our delight conjures up both mayhem as well as political allegory. As Curtis & group advances through each compartment, we are introduced to a new, surprising facet of this eerie locomotive.     

                                Director Bong’s proletariat revolt progresses, not just with bloody action, but also with a grand design, which puts us in the perspective of this international posse, who like us never knows what lies ahead of them. Each compartment is filled with decadent surroundings and the train’s blithe one-percenters seem to have been oblivious of their surroundings. The script written by Bong and Kelly Masterson (“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”) gives urgency to the plot where it needed (‘ax fight’) and also slows the pace to let us identify with the characters and be absorbed in their dystopian world. Each advance makes us feel that none of the character is safe in this tumultuous situation.  


                               The characters are well fleshed out for good vs. evil tale. Curtis, at first looks like the typical malcontented Hollywood hero, but the character’s arc gets revealed in a specific moment which will make you rethink about Curtis. Nam and Yona’s characters do not come with the usual Hollywood label of ‘exotic Asian.’ Bong even makes Nam speak in Korean (hi-tech translator equipment translates it to English) and walks around in his own way, instead of cuddling up to his ‘white’ leader. Bong’s long time cinematographer and production designer Ondrej Neksavil brings up a remarkably rich setting, even though the film is restricted entirely within the train.

                               Chris Evans gives an electrifying performance as Curtis, especially that haunting monologue, which explains his efforts for being the good guy. However, two supporting performances stand tall: one is Tilda Swinton’s scene-chewing performance as the ultra-reactionary minister; and the other is Alison Pill’s morbidly cheerful school teacher role. John Hurt has been playing the role of shabby intellectual for decades (“1984”, “Midnight Express”) and so draws out our attention, whenever he is on the screen. The Romanian actor Vlad Ivanov is particularly menacing, without ever uttering a single line of dialogue.


                               Flaws and holes are inherent part of this sci-fi tale (how the hell can the train run so fast and so long for 17 years?). Towards the end, Bong, repeatedly hammers the modus operandi of modern-day capitalism, which makes the political allegories, a little less layered. However, if we could over look some of the glaring flaws, our mind could provoke certain questions, which has been asked for long in dystopian movies: Whether mankind is worth trying to save at all? Does survival incites greater costs? And is it worthwhile to be inhuman for the better chance of preserving humanity? As I said, these questions has been asked a lot of times, but in ‘Snowpiercer’ we could genuinely feel the temptation in a character that facing a difficult decision, since none of the choices is going to be a easy one. The final choice or the event that made it happen could be viewed either as optimistic or pessimistic, depending on an individual’s view. I think only very few big-budgeted Hollywood movies have posed questions and have dealt action set pieces secondary to characterization. So, for these reasons alone, we could neglect the problematic aspects of the story.

                             “Snowpiercer” (125 minutes) is devilishly unpredictable and dazzles us ceaselessly. The unorthodox pacing, dark humor, violence and the film’s view on capitalist society may question its survival in the box-office; nevertheless this is an enthrallingly executed piece of allegorical sci-fi cinema. 

 Trailer


Foreign Correspondent -- Hitchcock's High-Geared Entertainment


                                    Reading a phrase that the ‘current heroes of Americans, young and old, are the foreign correspondents, those dashing chaps who presumably hop all over Europe, Asia, Africa and points between, catching wars on the wing’ makes us think, are we talking about the American’s of 21st century? No, no. These are the wonder-eyed folks, who in the brink of World War II, hobnobbed with influential persons for real news. An espionage thriller, set at those times (starting point of World War II), no doubt, will be a propaganda movie. But, at the same time, “Foreign Correspondent” (1940) is a Hitchcockian propaganda film, so the unapologetic transparency gives way to cracking thriller plot, which is anything less than grandly entertaining.

                                    1940 was also the year, Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” released. In those time, Hollywood studio dissuaded film-makers from making stories that might cast any aspersions on Nazi Germany. Chaplin, who didn’t care much about studio restrictions, went on to make his timeless classic on the Nazi leader, whereas, Hitchcock’s film avoids using the words “Nazi” or “Germany”, but the nefarious villains, speaking in some gibberish foreign language could easily be identified as stand-ins for Nazis. ‘Foreign Correspondent’ was the second American movie for Alfred Hitchcock and it was also one of the films that argued for American intervention into the war in Europe.


                                  Troublesome and brash American crime reporter Johnny Jones aka Huntley Haverstock (Joel McCrea) gets promoted to the role of foreign correspondent. He was immediately sent to Europe to interview Mr. Van Meer (Albert Bassermann), a Dutch diplomat and the man who has signed a secret peace pact with Belgium. Johnny has to meet Van Meer at a luncheon organized by the Universal Peace Party, to find out whether he thinks war is going to be declared. Jones questions Van Meer, but he is too elusive and Jones gets carried away after meeting Carol (Laraine Day), member of that well-meaning amateur peace group. Carol’s father, Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall) is the leader of that peace party. Later, at a peace conference in Amsterdam, Van Meer is assassinated in front of Jones.

                               A car chases ensues, leading Jones to windmills, where he discovers that Van Meer is not dead – a double has been killed – and the gibberish speaking men want Clause 27, a secret clause to a peace treaty which Van Meer has memorized. Before the arrival of Dutch police, the villains flee from the scene, which eventually brings Jones and Carol together. They both escape to London to seek the help of Stephen Fischer. As this is a Hitchcock’s film, story from there unfolds in unexpected ways (may be a little predictable), revealing a new twist or turn with each reel change.


                               Hitchcock’s chief MacGuffin in the film is the ‘Clause 27’, which remains as the world’s only hope for peace. Every Hitchcock suspense thriller contains this kind of plot point, which is of no real importance itself, but helps carry the story along. The script was written by longtime Hitchcock collaborators Charles Bennett and Joan Harrison, who has written a parade of Hitchcock scenarios. A Hitchcock’s movie is defined by the number of memorable moments. In that way, ‘Foreign Correspondent' has got many. Some of which are: Johnny sneaking in and around the creaking innards of a Dutch windmill; Van Meer’s assassin disappearing into a crowd of bowler hats and black umbrellas, and the resulting car chase; the climactic crashing into the ocean of a transatlantic passenger plane. Especially, the final flight crash scene is filmed over the shoulders of the pilots in a single unbroken shot. The viewers’ viewpoint is kept inside the cockpit and so when they hit the water, we see the water crashing through the glass (holds up in light of the smoother CGI effects that would be used today).


                            It is a visual tour de force and Hitchcock has taken advantage of all the special effects and production value that could be afforded by a Hollywood studio, in that time. Another most notable person in Hitchcock’s crew his towering production designer, William Cameron Menzies (full of breathtaking sets). Without any of the usual charismatic actors like Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, or Ingrid Bergman, Hitchcock has used his average plays to extract good performances. The only unconvincing or uninteresting part is the romance between Joel McCrea and Laraine, which doesn’t have much on-screen chemistry. George Sanders (“All About Eve”), the veteran character actor, who often plays the roles of bad guys takes a turn and plays a good guy role of Scott ffolliot. He gives the film an injection of much needed dry-wit smoothness.

                            “Foreign Correspondent” is a meticulously constructed propaganda movie that has an excellent narrative and incredible cinematic vision. Even, Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister viewed this film as dangerous and very entertaining. 

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The Rocket -- A Feel-Good Story in an Atmosphere of Loss


                                       Veteran Australian documentary film-maker Kim Mordaunt has traveled to Laos – a place rarely seen on screen – in 2007 for his harrowing documentary, “Bomb Harvest.” It showed how children of Laos are getting killed every year by picking scrap metals from the hundreds of American unexploded bombs, rockets, and grenades that have littered the Laotian countryside since the Vietnam War. On local lingo, these bombs are called “Sleeping Tiger.” Mordaunt once again returns to these impoverished mountains of Northern Laos with his debut feature film, titled “The Rocket” (2013). It is a crowd-pleasing competition movie and a coming-of-age story. But, what makes this film different from a regular feel-good movie is the film-maker’s determination in tackling diverse issues: like the displacement of people, the legacy of war, the harshness of poverty and the waning of traditional beliefs.

                                   The film opens in a remote village in Northern Laos region, where a young wife Mali (Alice Keohavong) gives birth to a young boy. Both Mali and her mother-in-law Taitok (Bunsri Yindi) are jubilant, but Mali begins to have more contractions, which means that she is having twins. Taitok tries to kill the new-born baby, because their superstition is that out of two twins, one will be cursed (will bring bad luck). Mali stops her mother-in-law, but unfortunately the second baby arrives, dead. They both secretly bury the baby, vowing not to tell Toma (Sumrit Warin) – the boy’s father. The boy is named ‘Ahlo’ and his grandmother’s superstitious belief doesn’t come true for a decade.


                                 Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe) is an energetic and resourceful boy (catches fish, repairs lanterns etc). Taitok’s awaited bad luck comes, when Laos's communist government and an Australian corporate announces its plan for a building a new dam (for a hydro-electric project) that will submerge Ahlo’s village. These impoverished people can’t fight against the government and they are promised of clean quarters and farming land (as shown in a crass corporate video). Ahlo’s family gets ready for the journey. He and his mother Mali pick up mangoes from a 400 year old tree to plant its seeds in their new land.

                                Ahlo wants to carry his canoe to his new house, but father and grandmother are totally against it. By Mali’s persuasion the family, the boat is pulled up by a buffalo, inch by inch through the mountainous region. A tragic accident occurs at this point, and Mali dies in front of Ahlo. After an arduous truck journey, Ahlo reaches the Nan Dee Relocation Camp. It looks like a refugee camp, but the officer promises them that the dwellings are being built. In the camp, Ahlo incurs the wrath of other people by stealing funeral flowers and making friends with two outsiders -- Kia (Loungnam Kaosainam), a doe-eyed little girl and her alcoholic uncle Purple (Suthep Po-ngam). Even total strangers take Grandma Taitok’s view in the case of Ahlo. To prove his worth and determination, Ahlo finally gets one chance, in the form of a rocket competition.


                               Two movies came to my mind, when watching ‘The Rocket’: one is Rene Clement's 1952 classic, “Forbidden Games”, where a little orphan girl and a poor farmer's son make their way through occupied France during World War II; the other one is “Beasts of Southern Wild”, which portrayed the excruciating lives of some humans, living inside a super-power nation. Like, ‘Rocket’, that film also showed how animals within this area are treasured as well as routinely slaughtered. Laos’ rural culture and its obsession with phallic talismans and animal sacrifices are depicted with a documentarian’s eye. There is also a metaphorical scene in the beginning, where Ahlo swims in the lake created by an existing dam. He passes submerged statues that symbolize the country’s neglected traditions. Artfully persuasive scenes like these elevate ‘The Rocket’ from being just a feel-good movie.


                               Laos is one of the most bombed countries per capita and director Mordaunt clearly seems troubled by the things Westerners have done in Southeast Asia (there is a callous Aussie in the film who witnesses the village’s relocation). The script, co-written by Mordaunt slowly builds from tragedy and becomes a lively affair in the last part, bolstered by fine touches. He also doesn’t romanticize the characters as happy-go-lucky noble savages. He shows how traditions and rituals have adhered in place, which is wrecked by the technology of modern warfare. The cinematography confronts the country’s torrid past, which echoes throughout the scarred yet gorgeous landscapes. The cast -- except for the comedian, who played uncle Purple -- is full of non-professional actors. Sitthiphon Disamoe, the real-life street seller gives an exuberant performance that captures the resilience and curiosity of youth.

                            “The Rocket” (95 minutes) is an ingenious piece of entertainment, which paints a naturalistic portrait of Laotian life and hopes for a change rather than dwelling on the past tragedy. 

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Ten Best Movies with Killer Kids/Teens


                                    In movies, kids and teens are mostly used for annoying roles. They either provide comments or remain cuddly. Except for some American indie movies, Iranian and South East Asian movies, most kids’/teens movies are made by people who don’t understand their world. At the same time, many film-makers were good in pursuing the tag line ‘something is wrong with that kid.’ Some film-makers approach these kids/teens as a creepy little thing, capable of murder, while some others makes us ask, what charges the murderous intent within a kid/teen: nature? Or nurture?  
  
                                  There are plenty of great movies that are engaged on this theme: evil kid/teen. Most are horror movies. In this list I have tried to include the terrifying kids from both the horror/thriller and hard-hitting dramas that takes a small peek into their troubled psyches. If I have missed out any films, please state in the comments section.


The Bad Seed (1956)


This Mervyn Le Roy’s film was one o of the first to deal with criminal conduct as biologically conditioned. This dark drama launched the sub-genre of evil-kid movies. Patty McCormack gave a credible creepy performance as eight year old Rhoda that never went quite over the top. The pig-tailed little girl is a budding sociopath, whose internal drive works her to get what she wants the easy way. Rhoda’s characterization is something of a caricature, doing actions against her insistently pure appearance. There are some deplorable missteps, but ‘Bad Seed’ still looks menacing. 


Village of the Damned (1960)


Wolf Rilla’s Brit, sci-fi/horror takes place in the village of Midwich, where an event causes all inhabitants to fall asleep for several hours. When they wake up, few hours later, every woman in the village discovers themselves pregnant. Children with blonde hair and piercing eyes are born, and you can easily guess what’s gonna happen. Although this premise has been played to death, “Village of the Damned’s” atmosphere and pace are superbly handled. The dread we feel for these strange children are built with mood and insinuation rather than violence. 


Lord of the Flies (1963)


William Golding’s allegorical novel “Lord of the Flies”, which was considered as one of the greatest novels in the English language, served us the perfect portrait of youth gone wild. A group of Brit school boys survive an air crash, gets marooned in a Tropical Island and slowly the boys revert to savagery. The movie’s violence may not seem shocking now, but violence has never been the point of story. Both the book and Peter Brook’s adaptation isn’t known for its cheap horror tactics. It is rather showcases an idea that civilization and our organized, refined behavior is no match for the inherent evil of human nature. 


Omen (1976)


Richard Donner’s entertaining horror film came after the grand success of ‘Exorcist.’ Rather than going into the territory of possession, this film brings up a boy, who is evil incarnate, the antichrist. He is born into the family of a sophisticated politician and is expected to ‘establish his evil satanic kingdom, here on earth.’ Harvey Stevens’ performance, the boy who played Damien Omen, will definitely give chill of genuine credibility. The apocalyptic religious fantasy angle also worked well as suspense thriller. The movie mostly avoids physical gore, though the tone of is one of unrelieved menace. 


The Brood (1979)


Canadian auteur David Cronenberg’s skillfully made splatter movie castes children as homicidal psychopaths. An estranged husband tries to keep away his daughter from the mother, who is supposedly in psychotherapy under the care of an egoistical doctor. The twists are unexpected and turn the film into an unpleasant shocker. At the same time, the whole bloody exploration could be seen as a metaphor for the cruelty of bitter divorce. “Brood’s” themes were explored by Cronenberg in most of his other works, especially the horrific human mutation and externalization of sexuality.


The Butcher Boy (1997)


This bold drama by Neil Jordan tries to evocate a troubled and violent childhood of a boy. Its protagonist Francie (brilliantly played by Eamonn Owens) is bright and mischievous, who plays cowboys and Indians like any other boy. But, his mentally affected mother and alcoholic father mostly ignore him. The villagers’ gossip makes Francie to protect the family’s honor. That is when the film gets horrifically bloody. The movie unfolds from Francie’s warped sense of reality and so it is disturbing to see how the lack of love turns kids into killers. The only problem viewers may find is the Irish wit, which might seem incomprehensible at times. 


Battle Royale (2000)


Fukasaku’s bloody spectacle introduces BR act, which specifies that a class of ninth-graders, selected by random lottery should participate in a cruel contest on a remote island. The 41 teens are expected to kill each other off until only one "winner" is left. If you can bear with histrionics performances and cheap horror executions, you can see that the film is deeply concerned with social cohesion and the value-gaps between the generations. It is also a take-off on reality TV that turns high-school relationships into a war zone. 


City of God (2002)


Fernando Mereilles’ dynamic portrait of Brazilian gangs shows how kids are drawn into a life of crime, brutality and murder as it seems like the only avenue that is open to them. The images of gun toting pre-teen killers are very disturbing. There is also another harrowing scene, where the local drug lord in order to exact revenge on a disobedient gang of 9 and 10 year olds incapacitates two of them and forces one of his own kid soldiers, to choose which one of the two he wants to kill. The violence is abhorrent, but nonetheless it is a masterpiece. “City of God” can’t be just labeled as ‘killer kid’ flick, because its themes generate an aura of fear unlike any horror film. 


Let the Right One In (2008)


Tomas Alfredson’s Swedish coming of age horror tale eschews all the foolish themes that have plagued vampire films. The story takes place in 1981 and is about an 11 year old boy Oskar, who happens to befriend a normal-looking girl. The girl lives with her guardian, Hakan, who wanders in the night to kill men and fills his bucket of blood for the girl. The film uses the vampire and killer kid framework to bring together the pubescence and vampirism. It could be appreciated by anyone who cherishes the beauty and pain of growing up. Of course, you also have to stomach the violence. The movie was also well remade by Hollywood -- "Let Me In" (2010). 


We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011)


This art house psychological study about a shattered mother and her heinous teenage son is one of those confrontational cinemas with disturbing elements that will leave you speechless in the end. Lynn Ramsay’s adaptation of the Lionel Shriver’s novel provides no easy answers to a horrific crime. It portrays a world of parenting that is not sugar-coated. Mommies ought to love their babies, but what happens when a child is just a pure aura of evil and effectively manipulates the parents. Tilda Swinton’s tortured looks and Ezra Miller’s malice elevates this film to another level. It is a depressing exploration of a nightmare (not for entertainment) and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.


Other Notable Movies: Hard Candy (2005), Who can Kill a Child? (1976), The Ring, Hanna, The Good Son, Orphan.

In Fear -- Builds Terror Out of Minimal Resources


                                    Kids may get scared by haunted houses or by men wearing dark robes, but adults fears are more basic. One of them is ‘getting lost.’ How much terrified would you be if you are disoriented into the maze of narrow roads and chased by some bunch of backwoods guys? Yeah, it’s the most primal kind of fear, where we doubt, what’s lurking in that deep, dark place. Director/writer Jeremy Lovering’s atmospheric horror- thriller “In Fear” (2013) taps into these basic fears and presents scares that don’t resort to any kind of clich├ęd horror routines.

                                   Tom (Iain De Caestecker) is bold enough to invite Lucy (Alice Englert) to celebrate their two-week anniversary. The two Brits have decided to travel to Ireland for a music festival and have a good time with their friends. It is a chance for both to know each other, and so Tom gets bolder by booking an out-of-the-way hotel for a night. Tom has booked the room online, a place called ‘Kilairney House.’ After having a pint in the country club they are waiting in their car for a guy to show the way for hotel. Tom says he had some argument with the local folks. Luck says the barman flirted with her. They are joking about it, when a truck marked ‘Kilairney House’ comes into their vicinity and the driver without getting out, signals them to follow the truck.


                             After traveling through miles of picturesque country roads, they stop before a fence that is marked with the name of hotel. The truck goes and the couples take the inroad, follows sign after sign, but keeps on going around in circles. The maps and cell phones don’t help them. To make the situation worse, Lucy sees someone lurking in the dark. The frustrated couples figure out that they having been tricked into a giant maze to make them fall into prey. Who is stalking them? Is it the locals? Or some other unforeseeable menace?

                           Director Lovering is said to have refused to show his cast a screenplay or even to let them know if they would live or die in the end. So, most of the vulnerability and tension, the actors display are genuine (filmed it in chronological order). Working with cinematographer David Katznelson, Lovering has made strong use of tight close-ups and dark spaces. The gorgeous landscapes are shown us something unwelcoming and jagged. Even though most of the events take place inside a rental car, he generates nail-biting tension by exploiting relatable fears. The claustrophobic setting, ultra-tight close-ups and creaky nighttime noises amplify the tension.  


                         Lovering also conveys the psychological tension that ratchets up, when a budding romance is hit by a crisis like this. They get irritated towards each other and say or do stupid things that are horridly believable. “In Fear” has its share of plot holes and flaws. The middle part drags a little and some might feel that there are no satisfying explanations to the couples’ plight. The story only hints at the motivation behind this spite and confirms the hint in the final sequence. May be the film-maker was only interested in terrorizing his viewers. The plot holes are there by design. Alice Englert (daughter of director Jane Capmion) starts off as a stock scared girl and later gives a starkly realistic performance. Iain is both charming and patronizing as Tom.  The awkward chemistry between both of them is convincing and effective.

                      “In Fear” (85 minutes) has nothing new plot-wise, but it has a chilling atmosphere and delivers genuinely scary thrills. It is a lot better remote countryside horror film than the usual slasher mayhem. 

Trailer


Omar -- The Venomous Tang of Occupation


                                    Trust is the best affiliation for mankind. Love and friendships are built on trust. We reveal our secrets to those whom we trust. But, what happens when this great virtue like trust gets mangled by a treacherous thing, say something like politics or radical belief. Then, it would cut a man so deep that everywhere he looks, he sees the beast called distrust. It boosters bad beliefs and feelings that continues for one’s life time. Omar in Hany Abu-Assad's “Omar” (2013) gets consumed by distrust; an impression conjured upon him by the dynamics of power.


                                    Gillo Pontecorvo’s volatile classic “Battle of Algiers” explored why people suffering under occupation resort to terrorism. Abu-Assad’s 2005 controversial drama “Paradise Now” also explored those same themes. “Omar”, although not an unequivocal masterpiece like ‘Algiers’, tries to shine the light on a broader theme: psychological distress of men living in the oppressed conditions. The poster for ‘Omar’ makes us think that it is a romantic movie set amidst the border conflict. But, it is not correct. Like Iranian director Asghar Farhadi's movies, Abu-Assad leads us into layered truths and mistaken conclusions. It has an old-fashioned romance, but the atmosphere of paranoia, gives it a whole new dimension.




                                  Omar (Adam Bakri) is a baker. He is a handsome young man earning decent wages. At the start of the film, he hops isolation wall, over the Israeli-occupied West Bank, outruns security forces and knocks on the door of his lover, Nadia (Leem Lubany). Nadia, the 17 year old girl, is the younger sister of his childhood friend Tarek (Eyad Hourani). Nadia too loves him. Tarek doesn’t know about Omar’s courtship and things get a little awkward when another childhood friend, Amjad (Samer Bisharat) loves Nadia. Amjad is just a funny guy who does a “Godfather” Marlon Brando impression. Omar and Nadia are talking about where they’ll have their honeymoon (Mozambique or Paris?). However, Tarek seems to have ties with Palestine militant organization. He vaguely talks about the oppression and politics.



                                One day, Omar is humiliated and beaten up by some Israeli soldiers, when he tries to cross the wall. Omar becomes a angry young man, commits himself to the Palestine rebellion by planning to kill an Israeli soldier. The plan succeeds and Amjad pulls the trigger. But, Omar soon gets arrested, hung naked, tortured to give up the names of his accomplices. He resists all their cruel methods, but falls prey, when he erroneously says to another prisoner "I'll never confess." The fellow prisoner turns out to be Rami (Waleed Zuaiter), a notorious Shin Bet agent. He gives Omar two choices: to live rest of his life in jail (faces 90 year in jail) or rat out Tarek to live with Nadia. He makes a rational decision. He is given a month to find Tarek. Rami doesn’t trust Omar, and Omar doubts that there is another informer among their organization. On the other hand, Tarek and his friends doubt that Omar’s a traitor. One manipulative doubt implanted by agent Rami spreads like a contagious disease and changes the fate of everyone involved.




                              Various protestations were held against “Omar” by Jewish and Israeli groups, disputing that the film encourages anti-Semitism and such gruesome attacks, and that its Oscar nomination should be rescinded. I think there is little amount of politics in this film. It is mostly thriller set amidst a doomed romance and its violent acts don’t show blowing up a public bus. With little alteration, this same story could be set in Cold War Berlin or in any other country with border conflict. The film only depicts the corrosive nature of a poison (distrust) that oozes out of a radical and government agent. Last year’s eye-opening documentary “The Gatekeepers” showcased the interviews of former leaders of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service. If the political philosophy expressed in this documentary is found to be correct or normal, then I don’t think there is nothing controversial or wrong in “Omar.”




                              Abu-Assad’s “Paradise Now” portrayed two men, bereft of any options, turning into terrorism. That kind of character trajectory could be accused of being in support of such behavior. But, “Omar” shows no interest in terrorism or its causes. Abu-Assad just captures the everyday reality of living in West Bank and what are the psychological costs of such anxiety-filled life. On Tarek’s part, killing an Israeli soldier is great action for his cause. Omar is in on that plan because of the humiliation he suffered and for the love. He is just simple guy, who gets caught, manipulated and seems oblivious to the consequences of shooting a soldier. Whereas, Tarek repeatedly escapes from the Israeli traps because he is shrewder. The only time he loses his cool is because of some personal conflict. The contrast in characterization between Omar and Tarek could be seen as the difference between a commoner and extremist. When a powerful force like Rami gets in, relationships get reshaped by broken trust and betrayal. Amjad is just as devious as Rami, but the reason for his crookedness are more selfish. If Omar and Tarek are the ‘Good and the ‘Bad’, Amjad is the ‘Ugly.’



                              The character of Rami was also brilliantly handled. He doesn’t come off like a crude villain. In another context, the same guy could come off as a hero. Omar genuinely likes this guy, despite the contradictions. Beneath the coercion, Rami too exhibit a feeling of mutual respect, but their shared destiny in the end is totally unpredictable. The performances are top notch, especially by Bakri and Waleed Zuaiter. Bakri’s Omar strides through diverse emotional waters. The depth of his expressions gives the web of deceit, a real emotional weight.



                            “Omar” (95 minutes) points out to a harsher truth (a hopeless future). Abu-Assad shows the measure of true love and that love provides a strong political statement all its own.

 Trailer


7 Boxes -- A Thriller with a Powerful Subtext


                                 ‘Mistaken identity and plan gone awry’ – these were the famous narratives, constructed by the Master of suspense ‘Alfred Hitchcock.’ These suspense thrillers didn’t just feature soulless stories punctuated by money-grabbing effects. It had a powerful subtext, where all the themes traveled a full circle. ‘Wrong time, wrong place’ scenario of Hitchcock was used wonderfully in the recent Paraguay ‘chase’ movie, “7 Boxes” (2013). Some of the film’s energetic overtones take us within the Quentin Tarantino arena too. It has both the art house and Hollywood appeal. Directors Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schembori have set the movie in a place, unknown to global viewers -- jam-packed, poverty- filled marketplace in Asuncion, Paraguay. 

                                It is 2005 and 17 year old Victor (Celso Franco) catches his first glimpse of a cell phone featuring a camera. He seems fascinated by the idea watching his own self on video. Victor pictures of being a heartthrob on TV. He decides, no matter what, he must buy a cell phone. But, Victor is a wheel-barrow pusher and cell phones are very expensive in 2005. Paraguay’s Ascuncion marketplace is the central hub for trade in all manner of goods. Victor only earns a meager fee for hustling the wheelbarrow, full of goods, through heavy crowds. Victor’s world revolves around two girls: an enthusiastic, pushy friend Liz (Lali Gonzalez) and Sister Tamara (Nelly Davalos). Tamara works with her pregnant friend Leti (Katia Garcia) in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant. Leti is ready to sell her camera cell phone for $100. The owner blabbers in Mandarin and his young son has a crush on Tamara.


                            Victor, desperate for money, grabs an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when it comes in the guise of Gus (Roberto Cardozo). Gus works in a butcher shop and the place is crawling with cops. Gus’ boss Dario (Paletita) wants to take seven mysterious, sealed boxes out of his butcher's shop. Gus chooses Victor and gives him a cell phone, asks him to keep pushing the boxes throughout the market until he gets information about destination place. The pay will be $100, if he didn’t get caught by police. Victor happily takes away the boxes, but a rival push carter Nelson (Victor Sosa) arrives at the scene. Dario often uses Nelson for this kind of job. After learning that the boxes were taken by some other boy, both Dario and Nelson gets enraged.  Nelson, who needs to pay for meds for his sick child pursues Victor, while Dario and his pal are afraid about the things that would happen if the box gets into the hands of police. What’s in the box? Soon, Victor sees what’s inside it and Nelson wrongly hears what’s inside, which makes varied group of people, crooks and cops alike, to intensely look for the boxes.


                             Time-lapse photography, long tracking shots through the mazes of shops, pulsating music, stylized camerawork and acrobatic stunts doesn’t upstage the human element of the story. Co-director/writer Magnelia’s script has enclosed top-notch thriller ingredients along with cohesive storytelling elements. Dark humor, social observation and affecting emotions are the additional parts of the script too. The Chinese restaurant subplot and characters like that of Liz seems pointless at first, but in the end, we could feel that everything is in there for a reason. There are some distractions in the name of comedy and the dialogues at times are pedestrian (may be the English subtitles are bad), but still the film surges, thanks to the surprises.


                           Even though the film is set in 2005, a pre-smart phone era, we could understand the boy’s manic fascination with gadgets. The film’s final referential scene and many of Victor’s antics stresses how we are all consumed or seduced by our own projected image. Nelson and his buddies mentality showcases how greed facilitates to form a misguided sense of opportunity that keeps the working class downtrodden. Victor pushing the wheelbarrow is itself can be viewed as a metaphor: the interests of various parties revolves like a wheel and at every corner hits back at Victor, who is pushing himself against all odds. The direction moves the story with a dizzying speed, making us recalling the spirit of “Run Lola Run.” They use Hollywood type of outrageous twists and black humor, but never forgets to demonstrate the South American poverty, where less fortunate souls are trying to make their lives a little brighter.

                         “7 Boxes” (105 minutes) uses a simple scenario to build a structured complex thriller. The twists, the terrific ensemble of actors (mostly first-timers) and a slick script make this film an excellent escapist fare. 

 Trailer