Saturday, March 31, 2018

Who's Watching Oliver?

Who’s Watching Oliver?

 A Film Review.

Tick tock goes the clock. The picture begins. We are in a room that looks like its straight from 1950s Middle America but is actually modern day Bangkok. Oliver counts out his pills from an old antique hardwood medicine box. He’s dressed in 1950s Beat wardrobe, and he’s clearly deeply disturbed. His condition, although never specified, is obviously somewhere within the autism spectrum. But that’s not all about Oliver that’s beat. Mama’s been on his case from an early age. She makes him kill. She enjoys it. And Mama does all this via Skype. With a cocktail in her hand and with the vocabulary of a Kilkenny fishwife, Mama, played wonderfully by Margaret Roche, is perhaps the most downright vulgar abusive female villain to be put to film.

Yes, we’re familiar with the theme, and of course Who’s Watching Oliver is Psycho for the modern age and Oliver, played by obsessively technical method actor Russell Banks, is a million times more disturbed than Norman Bates will ever be. Banks gets inside the skin of Oliver in a frightfully believable fashion and thoroughly deserves the awards he picked up on the festival circuit for best lead. This is a physically challenging performance, and Banks, in his first lead role, delivers the part well. He is Oliver for better or worse and Oliver must dance to the tune of the devil. The devil (aka Mama) finds work for idle hands, and Oliver gets his filthy little mitts dirty on numerous bloody occasions while banging to the beat of Mama's decadent drum. 
But its not all blood and guts. Oliver has a routine set around a Disneyland type theme park. He visits the rides and snaps pictures and generally blends in with bizarre environment around him. Foreigners living in this part of the world are considered strange oddities, so the locals who observe Oliver’s eccentricities aren’t too concerned by the shambolic spectacle of his incurable nervousness. By night, Bangkok is a different beast. Thousands of bars, a labyrinth of debauched personalities, and it is here, egged on by his online psychopathic mother, Oliver hunts. The picture reaches its darkest depths as Oliver brings back Clair, played by promising newcomer Kelly Woodcock, to his home and ties her to a table. Mama watches on encouraging her son’s misbehavior like a demented lip-glossed Frankenstein. But if Oliver is a monster, surely the beast who created him is more grotesque, more evil, a force that must be stopped before the killing spree goes too far and Oliver spends the rest of his years twitching in jail. 

And herein lays the theme of the film. Forget the blood, the gore, and the comedy – Oliver is at times hilarious. The picture is really a simple dark meditation on the abuse of the mentally ill. We are usually abused by those closest to us - a wife or husband, a mother or father. In the case of Oliver his Mama has a tight hold on him, as all mother’s do, but the hold here is destructive above and beyond normal maternal heartfelt strangulation. She's a bitch. Abusive cycles are difficult to break, but sometimes it takes another who has experienced similar patterns to recognize the symptoms and help a stranger out. Oliver’s olive branch arrives in the shape of Sophia played by Sara Malakul Lane. At first we wonder why she is approaching this profoundly limited personality, but her true motives eventually come to light. She wants to help him but first he must help himself by breaking the dysfunctional cycle. Together perhaps they can cut the evil puppeteer strings that Mama uses to manipulate Oliver. Perhaps they have a joint cause. At last there's a shimmer of light in the darkness.
Technically the film is a triumph. Debutant feature film director Richie Moore’s camera and light work is as good as anyone’s and it shows clearly in the picture that Moore has quite literally grown up with a film camera in his hand. The script, co-written by Moore, Banks, and producer Raimund Huber (who also had a strong hand in the jazz music selection – nice touch) is darkly impressive.  The picture is put together expertly by the editor Jesse Maddox. If you like your horror dark, and there’s not much darker than Oliver, you'll like this. It pushes boundaries, it shocks, but after waiting a year to see it, I'm glad to say it delivers. Who’s Watching Oliver will be distributed soon, and you’d be crazy not to see it.   

Monday, November 27, 2017

Butterfly Man - A film.

Aged 23 I had to see the world.
I had a  friend traveling through South East Asia and she'd send me postcards and letters from Laotian paddy fields and tropical beaches – handwriting slanted slightly to the left, tales of opium dens, and body massages, it seemed magical, mysterious, partially undiscovered, I had to know more..
Secretly I  made plans to travel East.  
I read The Beach as did most of the other rat racers that summer and decided to hit the road. Consumed guidebooks at the rate Trump consumes cheeseburgers. India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, a plan was hatched. By September 2001, just after the twin towers were struck, I was packed, all set, and ready to leave the West behind forever.

Sixteen years and a couple of months flash by and I’m sitting in the nine seat cinema at the Friese Green film club awaiting Kaprice Kea’s Butterfly Man - a film about a young man encountering Thailand for the first time. Also celebrating are a fair sized audience some of whom were involved in the original production. So we had all pretty much been here for the long haul, looking back on how things were a decade and half before, perhaps a little too rose-tintedly.

Adam arrives in Bangkok with his girlfriend and they abruptly split-up over a minor disagreement, but the relationship’s been on the slide for a while and when Adam finds his significant other in the guesthouse room next door with a dreadlocked sandal seller we know the honeymoon is truly over. Thailand has a habit of testing Western boy-girl-relationships and in this case the couple split in less than 24 hours.  

The lovers split their separate ways and Adam heads to Ko Samui, determined to see out his holiday. Here he meets a character many of us know (and if we don’t know one we might just be him) - the middle-aged boozy expat not above dalliance with indigenous females – Joey - played brilliantly in this case by Francis Magee. Joey convinces Adam to visit a massage joint where we're introduced to Em the beautiful masseuse who Adam falls for and thus begins the vortex, the downward spiral, the lies, the mistruths, the deceptions that often follow an East West relationship.
Em retains her typical Thai conservative streak, hoping perhaps Adam will hold out for marriage and the house in the village. Inpatient and frustrated Adam hooks up with Noi one of the many bargirls on the beach and has to confess to Em that he has suddenly metamorphosed into a straight up, genuine Butterfly Man – a lover who goes from lady to lady, taking a piece of pollen from each as he so does. But Lady Fate doesn’t smile on those men who spread it about on the islands, things continue to spiral down for Adam his triangular love affair leading to him being drugged, and robbed and finally having to beg on the beach in a charming sequence of som nom na – serves’ you right.

Our old friend Joey returns and offers Adam a chance to make some quick cash on the neighboring Ko Phangnan. After some indecision he makes it over to meet a character named No Name, a statuesque blond, played by Abigail Good who pedals a shady sideline. 

Adam uncovers a human trafficking ring and rescues Em by stowing her away on a boat where she lies in his arms, having married him in a brief ceremony conducted by the charmingly Thai boat captain. Events unfold in a tragically entertaining fashion and this is all weaved together seamlessly as the final twist and turns lead Adam to Em’s Isaan village where he is making a new life for himself in the real Thailand.

Overall a rewarding picture. The score by Stephen Bentley-Klein is worth mentioning along with the title track by Skye Edwards (formerly of the band Morcheeba). Producer Tom Waller did a sterling job putting it all together and the cinematography was at times sublime. The acting from the foreign cast was impressive throughout and a few roles really shone. A film entitled Butterfly Man was bound to have the odd Thai / foreigner cliché, and was at times charmingly naïve, but that doesn’t take anything away from the movie. This is in many ways a better, more honest movie than Danny Boyle’s adaptation of The Beach and for those who first came to the Kingdom before the omnipresent mobile telephone, cyber stickers, and emjois Butterfly Man is a nostalgic treat full of personal memories and hidden rewards and it is well worth hunting down a copy or a download. 

You can buy the DVD HERE

Monday, September 4, 2017

Ghost House

There’s just something about a packed cinema theater in the center of town. We’d arrived just after the billed show-time and have settled for front row seats – that's me, and and my eleven-year-old son Louie, who is underage for this 15 rated movie, but what are dads there for if not for smuggling underage kids into theaters to watch adult horror movies? 

GHOST HOUSE begins with a gorgeous shot - tangerine sunset, airplane landing on Bangkok concrete and we know we are in pretty safe hands with director Rich Ragsdale's team.
Julie and Jim are on a romantic holiday in exotic Thailand. They get engaged using somewhat expository dialog, and enjoy the sights and sounds of the city. It's a bit clunky but it looks great and sounds good and the story is set up early on. We know that Julie's camera and her curiosity aren't leading anywhere pleasant.  
Julie busies herself with photographing spirit houses (what could go wrong there, then?) when the couple meet two fellow travelers who are out to trick them

Fast forward to a night out in Bangkok's (or was that shot in Pattaya?) and the following morning spells a trip to a spooky forest where an ancient curse is transferred to Julie. She's swiftly possessed by an angry ghost and before long Julie is laid down in Gogo's relative's shack as the local monks try to unsuccessfully dislodge the spirit from her.
Their driver and guide Gogo is played by talented Bangkok actor Michael New who sparks some Thai fun and humor into proceedings. Russell Geoffrey Banks cheekily plays Robert the untrustworthy fellow traveler, and, Mark Boone Jr plays the jaded expat who has some local knowledge. 

There's some sweet red filtered cinematography as the couple seek out Boone Jr in the seedy part of town. As it transpires the jaded expat knows some locals and they discover that the curse is like a ghostly hot potato that must be passed on to another if Julie is to be freed of the spell.

The film plays out predictably but satisfactory with some nice twists towards the end. The jump factor at the cinema was real enough with some screams coming from behind. I particularly enjoyed the circular plot pattern of Gogo meeting new tourists fresh off the plane - thus the horror will continue, 

My only real niggle with the story is that we don't get to understand the antagonist as much as I'd liked to. What makes her tick, what does she want? Will she come back?  

All in all GHOST HOUSE is a pleasant surprise for horror in the region and guess what? No CGI -  just a great film score, locations, excellent supporting cast, nifty make-up, overall a worthwhile cinema experience if horror is your thing.               

Playing at theaters in Bangkok now.