BONE TOMAHAWK: S. Craig Zahler manifests his destiny as a director.

Bone Tomahawk

Two bandits are going about their business of killing and robbing some travelers a bit too close to a sacred burial ground belonging to an extremely aggressive group of Native Americans with, let’s say, cannibalistic tendencies. The surviving outlaw flees to a small town called Bright Hope. The local sheriff (Kurt Russell) shoots the bandit in the leg -which appears to be his regular MO- and has the local doctor Samatha (a role for Lili Simmons of Banshee fame) fetched to attend to his wound. She’s married to Arthur O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson) who’s injured, recovering from a broken leg. In the morning the sheriff is notified that a black stable boy has been found dead, severely mutilated. When they check the jail they find an arrow, Samatha, the bandit and a young deputy are missing from the jail.
A four man posse -consisting of Sheriff Hunt, his back-up deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins) with potential signs of early alzheimer’s, Brooder (Matthew Fox) a notorious ‘indian killer’ and womanizer (who at one stage had an eye on the town’s doctor) with some vanity issues and the injured husband Arthur- is formed to get them back out of the hands of the tribe of cannibalistic cave dwellers or troglodytes, a word which is the basis for one of the countless comedic scenes in the film. The cannibals bare somewhat of a resemblance to the Predator creature in the 1986 Schwarzenegger vehicule (and many of its sequels).

This typical and fairly simple premise and character set-up could have resulted in a straightforward, lean and mean western. Writer director (and musician) S. Craig Zahler had other plans, he’s opted for a slow paced rhythm, with a lot of riding and campfire scenes leaving plenty of opportunity for character moments and loads of comic relief, many scenes playing out in long takes with little camera movement. The character of Chicory played by Richard Jenkins is clearly an homage to similar comic relief roles by character actors such as Will Rogers in many a John Ford film or of Walter Brennan in countless Howard Hawks films. Where the humor in the films of Ford and Hawks now often feels dated as it’s too much ‘broad comedy’ (at least for my taste) the dialogues by Zahler constantly strike the right chords even though a lot of the time it has an oldfashioned feel to it. Not that the other actors are less than great but Jenkins really has the star part and steals many a scene.

Zahler’s reputation and script was able to attract a lot of star quality for his low-budget debut, all willing to work for scale. The film was shot on a shoestring budget of 1,8 million dollars on pre-existing sets on the Paramount Ranch for 21 days. After the shoot Kurt Russell almost went straight to The Hateful Eight set, he clearly kept the same hairstyle and beard.
The film also has a lot of interesting actors (rnaging from cult actors to former glories) in minor parts . There’s Zahn McClarnon (of Fargo Season 2 fame, reteaming with Patrick Wilson) -who in an original take on the typical Native American scout role- informs the posse where they can find the tribe but wisely declines to go along.
David Arquette (deputy Dewey in the Scream films) and Sid Haig (o.a. Jack Hill regular including the Pam Grier vehicules o.a. Coffy, Foxy Brown, played a cameo as the judge in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, and more recently Rob Zombie’s House of  1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects) as the bandits.
Woody Allen and Coen brothers fans may well recognise Fred Melamed as the saloon owner Clarence (Sy Abelman in A Serious Man, and one of the abductors/writers in Hail, Caesar!).
Michael Paré as as Mr. Wallington in the saloon scene who almost became an A-lister in the mid eighties via Eddie and the Cruisers, and Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire, and has since 2000 acted in almost every Uwe Boll film. And Sean Young (Blade Runner, No Way Out) as the mayor’s wife.

For some Zahler may at times be lingering too much. But then we would have missed such wonderful scenes such as the one with the (tiny) mayor who for whatever reasons is being completely ignored by Sheriff Hunt or the one showing the nightly encounter and treatment of a couple of Mexicans (“Mr Brooder just educated two Mexicans on the meaning of Manifest Destiny.”)  For others the extremely horrific outbursts of violence in the final act might be too much to take. This blending of western, horror and comedy that lasts for almost 2 hours and fifteen minutes some may find to be a bit indulgent, I liked it a lot and it was one of the many highlights at this years Offscreen festival.

If you have a dark sense of humor you’ll definitely have to check out the below clip: Cabin Fever and Bone Tomahawk: Windpipes and black humor.

Jan Bollen

Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s EVOLUTION. Mixing Bresson with Argento.


Set in a seaside village of a remote volcanic-like island the film shows a small community that seems to consist entirely of adult women each taking care of one young boy. The young women gradually appear to be more guards than guardians and more caretakers than caring. The children are given medicine to drink to so-called to strenghten themselves eventhough they are not ill. Director Lucile Hadzihalilovic focusses on one of these boys called Nicolas who discoveres the body of a young boy on an otherwise idyllic looking bottom of the ocean. The adults do not appear too alarmed, his mother (?) dives down at the same spot only to find the bright red starfish the boy said marked the dead body and do not seem to hold any further credibility to his story.

Made up more out of cryptic elements and taking a purely visual approach to storytelling (rather than a more classic form of dramatisation) the film immerges you in a moody and atmospeheric cinematic trip mixing the beautiful with the horrific. Small details have a maximum effect such as the bleached eyebrows of the mothers and the lightgray outfit they share make them look extremely similar and thus interchangeable  The approach chosen leaves a lot of room for interpretation that some may find exilharating and others frustrating.

The film forms a perfect companion piece to Hadzihalilovic’s debut Innocence (2004). She likes to start her films under water, in Evolution the water appears to be a symbol of the origin of life. Both films focus their attention on the world as experienced by children, girls in the case of Innocence and boys in Evolution and seem to share a similar dreamlike
logic. Both films are mainly set at night, have an eerie feeling to them and have children ‘disappearing’ and adopt a style that combines arthouse and genre films. Showing as much respect for the cinema of Robert Bresson as for that of Dario Argento.
Both films were shot by Belgian DoP’s. Benoît Debie who shot all films of her partner Gaspard Noé and worked with Fabrice Du Welz a.o. Calvaire (2004) and Vinyan (2008) has been replaced by Manuel Dacosse who seems to be his favorite replacement since Debie’s career has gone more international (a.o. Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, Wim Wenders Everything Will Be Fine and Ryan Gosling’s Lost River) as he helmed Du Welz Alléluia, and Hélène Cattet’s and Bruno Forzani’s Amer and L’étrange couleur des larmes de ton corps and now also Evolution.
Evolution is a more accomplished film and no longer has the imperfections Innocence had. In her debut film you could sometimes feel the child actors had no clue what they were upto due to which certain scenes played out far too long. It nevertheless remained a powerful film. Let’s hope we won’t have to wait another 11 years for a next film by Hadzihalilovic.

Jan Bollen

ANOMALISA: complex, one of a kind stop-motion animation with strings only puppet master Charlie Kaufman can pull.

Based on his “sound play”, Anomalisa marks the long anticipated return in the director’s chair for Charlie Kaufman since his brilliant debut Synecdoche, New York (2008). He’s mostly known as the screenplay writer for Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and to a lesser extent Human Nature (2001) and Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich (1999) and Adaptation (2002).

This stop-motion animation film he co-directed with Duke Johnson follows Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis), a succesful writer of a book on customer service, who’s on his way to a convention on this subject held in Cincinatti. After checking in the Fregoli hotel he decides to call a former girlfriend Bella Amarosi (what’s in a name) he unexpectedly left over ten years ago. They meet but the encounter does not turn out a succes.

In the meantime we’ve noticed every character in the film -regardless if they are a man a woman or a child- as seen by Michael has a remarkably similar face and voice (that of Tom Noonan). In his view everybody looks the same and has the same uninteresting things to say, he’s therefore only interested in being left in peace and tries to avoid social contact to the an absolute minimum.
The name of the hotel seems to suggest he may be suffering from of the so-called Fregoli delusion, or the delusion of doubles, which is a rare disorder in which a person holds a delusional belief that different people are in fact a single person. It’s named so after the turn of the century Italian quick-change stage actor Leopoldo Fregoli.
This seems to change suddenly when he encounters Lisa who does look different and does have a voice of her own (that of Jennifer Jason Leigh). They have sex (an incredibly sweet scene) and the illusion holds up at least till the morning after breakfast conversation.

The writing and plot is rich, layered and if you’re willing to dig deeper you’ll notice it’s dark and perverse as well. There’s a lot of irony linked to the customer service expertise knowledge of the main character. When he’s confronted with professional customer ‘speeches’ from e.g the taxi driver who drives him (who can’t stop giving free advice on Sin Sin or Cin Cin city Cincinatti) to the hotel and the phone conversation he has with the room service order taker who he feels is taken too much time and he’d like to cut of as soon as possible are probably applying his book on customer service to perfection. “You can feel the smile even if you don’t see it” Michael would state during his convention address).

A lot is being introduced extremely sublty and might not be picked up at all and may require multiple viewings. The ‘toy store’ confusion which is planted during the cab scene in the beginning and is built upon during the entire piece is being paid off during the conclusion of the film. This kind of complexity and indepth psyschological portrayal is not something you’d expect in a stop-motion animation film. It’s a truly original film that pulls no punches and doesn’t care about showing characters that have serious flaws or might lack sympathy, somewhat symbolised by the fact that the makers chose not to erase or digitally hide the inperfections in the dolls faces that are needed for facial movement. Needless to say: required viewing for mature audiences and undoubtedly one of the films of the year.

Jan Bollen

BELGICA: Welcome to your favourite place of depravity.


Two brothers turn a small pub into the place to be in the nightlife of Ghent. With more enthusiasm than know-how they incorporate an adjacent empty building and transform it into a nightclub. The bigger they get the more professional and responsible they should become but this doesn’t correspond with the ‘original concept’ of a cosy, easy-going place where everybody is welcome and anything goes. But whereas the older brother Frank (Tom Vermeir) sees their joint venture as an escape from responisbility (from his family life) the younger brother (Stef Aerts) is yearning for a family of his own. Tensions start to build up and painful choices need to be made.

Director Felix van Groeningen (De Helaasheid der Dingen a.k.a. The Misfortunates, The Broken Circle Breakdown) loosely based his film on the real-life bar ‘The Charlatan’ -previously owned by his father and later taken over by two brothers- and the events he’s witnessed and stories he heard. At first glance the script is more character than plot-driven but it is richer and more subtle than you might think.

The film is also very music driven, Soulwax (David and Stephen Dewaele at one stage known as The Fucking Dewaele Brothers) -who also collaborated with van Groeningen on his debut Steve + Sky– have created 16 original bands to play their music life in the film which proved to be an excellent choice. If you are somewhat familiar with the Belgian (and Ghent) music scene you’ll be able to spot a lot of familiar faces playing in these bands, the ‘ladies’ from Kenji Minogue, Kamagurka’s children Boris en Sarah Yu Zeebroek (from Hong Kong Dong), Roland, Steven Janssens, and Lander Gyselinck and Bent Van Looy on the drums.
The pub/parties scenes therefore look, feel and almost smell (luckily odorama never caught on) incredibly realistic. Kudos to editor Nico leunen, Ruben Impens for his brilliant lightning and photography and art director Kurt Rigolle, no mean achievement. The only thing remotely similar are the party scenes towards the end of Tom Barman’s Any Way the Wind Blows.

The film has some great performances by more established actors such as Stef Aerts en Charlotte Vandermeersch and some new (to film at least) interesting faces like Tom Vermeir and Hélèné De Vos. In smaller parts you may notice van Groeningen regulars Titus De Voogtd (the lead in Steve + Sky) and Johan Heldenbergh who means to van Groeningen what Olivier Gourmet means for the Dardenne brothers, unmissable.
Netflix has secured the exclusive worldwide VOD distribution rights -except for some major European countries where the film will be shown theatrically- and the film will be seen on their platform in many countries.

Jan Bollen

WAKE IN FRIGHT: Lost in the outback, Scorsese approved.


Wake in Fright starts with an image of the Australian outback (Outback happens to be the international title of the film), the camera circles a full 360° and the only thing we see is a railway, a tiny hotel/bar and another tiny building which turns out to be the local school. Inside the school we see a teacher John Grant (Gary Bond) and a handful of kids, no actual teaching is occuring. Everybody is counting down the last moments before the Christmas holiday is about to begin.
Grant plans to visit his girlfriend in Sydney over the holidays. To get there he first needs to stay overnight at a mining town called Bundanyabba or just the Yabba as it’s lovingly called by the locals. The plan is to take a plane the next morning. However the miners are all to happy to buy and share a beer with the newcomer, one after the other, refusing is not an option. A local sherif (played by popular Australian actor Chips Rafferty who died shortly after completing the film) takes him to a place where he can get the best steak in town, just for 1 dollar. in the back of the restaurant there’s a gambling den where a game called Two-Up (a traditional Australian game where 2 coins are trown in the air by a ‘spinner’ and the players gamble on whether the coins will fall with both heads up or both tails up) is played. Grant is looking down at the local mining population and their drinking and gambling rituals, a culture routed and founded by boredom.
Grant is not only stuck in the town (somewhat similar to the bourgeoisie in a Buñuel film), he’s also stuck professionally. A thousand dollar deposit keeps him trapped in his teaching job. The Two-Up game might give an easy way out, or not.

It is an intense and brilliantly crafted and acted film (Donald Pleasence as ‘the doc’ deserves a special mentioning), depicting one man’s drink-induced descent into a hellish nightmare culminating in a violent and controversial kangeroo hunting scene. Contrary to the CGI effects Greg Mclean’s used in the more recent Wolf Creek 2 (2013) director Ted Kotcheff’s (First Blood, 1982) Wake in Fright uses real footage of actual Kangeroo’s being gunned down. The filmcrew followed hunters during their hunting party and only filmed what would have happened anyway. As you can read during the end credits this was done with the approval of Australian animal rights groups as they wanted to denounce the activities of the real hunting which at one stage even threatened to make kangeroos extinct.

This film was part of the offical selection of the Cannes film festival of 1971 where it represented Australia. In that period Australian films were still directed by foreign director’s, famous examples are Michael Powell’s They’re a Weird Mob (1966), and Nicholas Roeg’s masterpiece Walkabout (1971), paving the way for local director’s like Peter Weir (o.a. Picnic at Hanging Rock, 1975) and George Miller (the Mad Max films). It’s incredible that this film was director by a Canadian as the movie feels extremely authentic

One of the films greatest champions is Martin Scorsese -being an unkown at the time-who saw the film in Cannes at it’s initial showing. In 2009 -now a celebrated director- when Scorsese was guest curator for the Cannes Classic section he selected the then recently restored version of the film that left a lasting impression on him and had this to say about the film:  Wake in Fright is a deeply — and I mean deeply — unsettling and disturbing movie. I saw it when it premiered at Cannes in 1971, and it left me speechless. Visually, dramatically, atmospherically and psychologically, it’s beautifully calibrated and it gets under your skin one encounter at a time, right along with the protagonist played by Gary Bond. I’m excited that Wake in Frighthas been preserved and restored and that it is finally getting the exposure it deserves.”

I’ve prepared to below clip comparing a scene from Wake in Fright with some shots from Scorsese’s Casino (1995). You can judge for yourself if Scorsese was inpired by Kotcheff.

Jan Bollen