Opening with the exciting new film from Joel and Ethan Coen, Hail, Caesar! and featuring the British premieres of thriller Green Room, horrors The Forest, The Other Side of The Door, The Hexecutioners and Baskin and the Scottish premiere of Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise, the biggest problem with the 2016 Glasgow Film Festival is finding the time to fit everything in. While we can’t claim to have caught all the genre offerings, here we examine a few which we managed to see.
An Evening with Vic Armstrong – Friday 19th February – Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
Relocated from the planned venue of the Glasgow Concert Hall, Kelvingrove was perhaps a less central setting but was a magnificent surround for a fascinating evening in the company of stuntman extraordinaire Vic Armstrong, a genuine legend of the international film industry, in conversation with his good friend, producer Iain Smith, whose diverse credits include Local Hero, The Killing Fields, The Mission, Children of Men, The Fountain and most recently Mad Max: Fury Road.
Opening with a montage of his work proclaiming him “the world’s greatest stuntman,” heavily weighted towards his numerous contributions to the achievements of superspy James Bond, Armstrong explained that he originally “fell into” the stunt industry when the 1966 film Arabesque starring Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren needed an experienced jockey to double for the lead. Often cast for his likeness (“or otherwise”) to middle aged actors, Armstrong would work with Peck a total of six times in his career.
It was the following year that he first worked on a 007 film, You Only Live Twice, where he played a ninja; asked whether he could come down a rope single handed while shooting a machine gun; at the time his mouth said “sure” while his mind responded “no way,” but it was a turning point in his career. “When you have a Bond on your resume it ups your reputation.”
“It’s not just about doing the stunt, it’s about making it work in the film,” Armstrong maintains, and in 1968 he moved to his first appointment as stunt co-ordinator, but his insistence on ensuring the safety of the performers for whom he was responsible would lead him into conflict on Escape to Athena, where the production called for a four hundred foot drop into a canal, where he proposed a shorter drop to a platform spliced with footage of a dummy dropped the full height.
“If you’re not strong in your beliefs and your mindset you can get pulled into a situation where things can go wrong.” A fall of a shorter distance was the hundred foot drop from a bridge for Omen III: The Final Conflict (“That gets your heart going!”) while it was his wife, whom he had met when he was playing Superman and she was playing Lois Lane on Superman II, who jumped with him from Club Obi-Wan through the awnings below for the opening sequence of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
With much of his work involving horses, he admitted that his preparation for a particular stunt doubling for Harrison Ford primarily involved two months of getting to know the horse who would be his co-performer, and that on Krull he taught twenty Clydesdales to gallop with smoke pots on their feet and suggested that the effect required would best be achieved in the studio on a heavy duty treadmill, which he then had to invent.
Recounting the many stars he has worked with, he described Ford as “fabulous,” organising a party specifically for the stuntmen working on Last Crusade when they were filming in Spain, both Heath Ledger and Tom Cruise as “great” (“I designed every stunt [on Mission: Impossible III] so Tom could do it”) and his “dear, dear friend” Paul Verhoeven as “a flamboyant, crazy guy,” for whom he threw himself on volcanic rock in Mexico while wearing short sleeves for Total Recall.
With modern effects allowing the digital removal of the tools of his trade, it has assisted safety enormously with piano wires now replaced by heavier cables, for example allowing Spider-Man to swing properly where he could not before, yet ironically the worst injury Armstrong ever experienced was not on a film set but the result of loosing his footing whilst carrying suitcases upstairs at his home.
Proud that he is “the only person in the world ever to have “unicorn master” in his credits,” Armstrong stated that The Mission remained one of the greatest adventures of his life, “sending dummies made by Madame Tussaud’s over the waterfall,” but for all his experience and knowledge of how stunts are created in what has become for him a family business, now engaging the services of his sons, it has not changed his appreciation of the work or the films they appear in. “There is stunning stuff out there. If it’s a good movie, I’m enthralled. If it’s a bad movie, I’m picking it apart.”
Évolution – Saturday 20th February – Glasgow Film Theatre
The shifting textures of the water as seen from below, flickering sunlight on coral, schools of fish, drifting plankton, the branches of anemones swaying hypnotically in the wash as trees in the wind, the rhythm as though the sea is breathing. A young boy free dives, as comfortable in the water as on land, but in a crack between submerged rocks he finds a body.
Running home across the black volcanic sand to the whitewashed blocks of his village, Nicolas (Max Brebant in his first role) tells his mother Stella (Le moine‘s Roxane Duran) but she does not believe him, saying the water plays tricks on the eyes, and besides, it’s time for his medicine.
Battering the rocks and surging along the shore, the interface between land and shore is terrifying, yet each mother takes their son to the shallows, washing them in the salt water and at dusk, as their sons sleep behind closed shutters and the tide eases they return to the water alone to perform their own ritual, tangled limbs in the calmer water.
The interiors of their hovels as blank and unfinished as the exteriors and as sparse and minimal as the dialogue of director Lucile Hadžihalilović’s script.
Described in the programme as having hints of H P Lovecraft, this isolated community does recall the cursed fishing village of Innsmouth, but that story was driven by the entry of an outsider into the enclave and the danger they found themselves in through their discovery.
Instead, this captures the setting but not the story, offering instead “a day in the life of the fish people,” slow, mundane and lifeless.
Where the scenes beneath the waves are ethereal, above the surface the film is shot for dreary realism, expressing a sense of decay, a permeating feeling of abandonment which provides a mood of displacement but not a narrative.
Without comprehension of who these people are or understanding of the experiments performed upon them by their guardians there is no engagement. With a superficial similarity to Upstream Colour in the transplantation, incubation and harvesting, there is less here than even in that cryptic film, barely enough to form the question of what it is supposed to mean let alone answer it.
Disorder – Sunday 21st February – Glasgow Film Theatre
Premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2015, programme director Allison Gardner introduced this French thriller by stating that she had hoped to seal her coup of arranging the UK premiere by having leading man Matthias Schoenaerts walk the red carpet of the Glasgow Film Theatre, but regrettably the much-in-demand star was unable to arrange time in his busy schedule.
Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and anger issues, soldier Vincent Loreau (Schoenaerts) wishes to go back out on deployment but his doctor thinks otherwise; staying in the small spare room of his mother’s apartment with his gun in a box kept under the bed, his friend Denis (Paul Hamy) is able to arrange security work for a party to be thrown at Maryland, the private estate of businessman Imad Whalid.
Concerned that there are too many blind spots not covered by the security cameras dotted around the mansion, that there is interference on the headsets, Vincent struggles through the party, the society movers and shakers not his people, the constant noise disorienting him, a damaged soldier struggling through an alien environment which he cannot control, always alert and watching for threat.
In the house, Vincent witnesses a business meeting with the Minister of the Interior with whom he has already had a confrontation at the main gates where it is obvious that the different parties are unhappy, intervening when he becomes concerned for the safety of his employer. Despite overstepping his role, his action impresses Whalid and Vincent is asked to stay on as bodyguard for his wife and son while he is out of the country.
With the agitated soundtrack reflecting Vincent’s state of mind, never resting, his relationship with Jessie (Diane Kruger) and Ali is uneasy, more comfortable with their dog Ghost with whom he instantly forms a bond. He is too ready to see everything as a threat, but a damaged man on a variety of prescription medications, is it real or is it in his head? Worse, what if he is not suffering from paranoid delusions, what if his charges are genuinely in danger and he is unable to protect them?
The second feature from director Alice Winocour co-written with Jean-Stéphane Bron, Disorder could not be more of a change of pace from her 2012 period drama Augustine, tense, driven and modern and starring two of the biggest names in current European cinema, Schoenaerts a winner of the César Award for Rust and Bone and Kruger requiring a larger mantelpiece to display her trophies, and despite their complicated relationship they convincingly form a reluctant team as the provenance of the threat is inevitably established.
While there is not much of a plot, a personal rather than a political thriller, one man in a siege situation with limited resources which is neither Home Alone nor Die Hard, it is a stylish and efficient thriller of two strangers, one already damaged, one coping with a shattering upheaval in her life, having to depend on each other.
There are dimensions to the plot insufficiently explored – the connection to the government, the removal of the police presence outside the house, the number of conveniently overheard conversations at the party as though every person there were talking about things which are ostensibly secret – but taken on its own terms it is a vigorous Continental antidote to the overly ridiculous posturing which an equivalent American thriller would have adopted.
Disorder is scheduled for release on Friday 25th March
Anguish – Friday 26th February – Glasgow Film Theatre
Listed in the Film Festival programme as a “compelling supernatural chiller inspired by a true possession story,” that description is somewhat misleading on two counts. Leaving aside the implication that there has ever been any evidence supporting a case of an individual having been possessed by a demonic entity, nor can it by any stretch of the imagination be described as chilling, the supernatural elements entirely in service of a dual narrative family drama of grief and loss.
It starts with Sarah and Lucinda (Sons of Anarchy‘s Karina Logue and Skins‘ Amberley Gridley), a stupid argument between a firm mother and her headstrong teenage daughter; Lucinda wants to go on a camping trip with her friends, Sarah says no. Lucinda loses her temper and says she’ll walk home and gets out of the car without looking; struck by a van, she is killed instantly.
Tess (Revolutionary Road‘s Ryan Simpkins) is a troubled teenager, in therapy and on medication since she was a child, her mother Jessica (The Sessions‘ Annika Marks) coping on her own with husband Robert on deployment and at the end of her wits. Recently moved to a new town and excused from school until the new term to allow her time to adjust, Tess explores her new surrounds and finds a marker on the road, a memorial to the girl about her own age who died on that spot.
Led by a trio of strong performances and characters, the grieving Sarah, the exhausted Jessica and in particular the tortured Tess, any elements of horror which are overlaid on the film are forced and clumsy, sitting unnaturally in what would otherwise be a straightforward examination and exploration of the lengths people will go to cope with the loss of a child.
While this may make Anguish a more commercial proposition it is also somewhat of a disingenuous one, with the marketing, both the poster and the trailer, pushing a hard horror angle which simply does not exist in the film, and moreover is a disservice to those who have crafted a film which should be allowed to stand on its own merits, or otherwise.
Her daughter diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, Jessica can no longer afford the hospital bills so asks a priest to help where modern medicine can’t, having read online about “symptoms which indicate likely demonic attack or possession.” Unfortunately this downward spiral of aberrant behaviour from Tess means the film too often feels like spending time in the company of a surly, uncommunicative teenager; for love of Audrey Rose, just get on with it.
With two hugely effective jump scares in the early part of the film, each further repeat diminishes the effect, and accompanied by a soundtrack of tortured cellos, glissando violins and ominous thumpings the film may be full of sound and fury but ultimately signifies nothing, trying too hard to be something which is not a natural fit to the story it has to offer.
The directorial debut of producer Sonny Mallhi whose previous credits include the inexplicable bungled American version of The Lake House, remade from the Korean original with no understanding of the subject matter, Anguish similarly struggles to find an identity, neither gripping enough to be a horror or brave enough to be an honest drama, the chasm between the two undermining what it could have been had Mallhi chosen just one path.
Anguish is scheduled to be released on DVD on Monday 11th April