In the Mouth of Madness (1994) – In Bedlam

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The trampled Lovecraft and his insane stories…

John Carpenter pays homage to HP Lovecraft and his extraterrestrial sagas with In the Mouth of Madness. The name itself is inspired from Lovecraft’s own, At the Mountain of Madness. It takes extra liberty from Lovecraft’s most popular story, The Call of Cthulhu and other similar stories. Consequently, In the Mouth of Madness contains elements typified by Lovecraft—insanity, unknowable powers, inconceivable horror, extraterrestrial powers enslaving humans, and of course—the dampening, sickening degeneration of people thanks to the unknown.

When filmmakers pay tribute to their favorite authors, especially in horrors, they walk on a thin rope. Roger Corman, with his favorite actor Vincent Price, did a fine job of respecting Edgar Allan Poe’s classic stories and poems in the 60s. They’re generally popular as B-grade classics. Vincent Price (one of my personal favorites) always made these movies appear larger with his inimitable persona and a piercing voice. Roger Corman is a handy director too—not avant-garde, but he’s okay.

In cases when other filmmakers have adapted horror classics, there have been instances of inventiveness. The Innocents (Henry James, adapted by Clayton), The Haunting (Shirley Jackson, adapted by Wise), Rosemary’s Baby (Ira Levin, adapted by Polanski), The Exorcist (William Blatty, adapted by Friedkin), The Shining (Stephen King, adapted by Kubrick), and of course Misery (Stephen King, adapted by Reiner) are some of the most brilliant examples of a movie propelling the book into folklore.

In the case of Madness, Carpenter, whilst being a phenomenal presenter of violence and destruction, just doesn’t seem to bring his A-game. You can’t doubt Carpenter for the brilliant visuals here, but the story itself is loopy, pretentious, and Lovecraft’s obscurity is misguided, even though authentic. Take even The Fly (both versions – Newmann and Cronenburg); both movies use the story by George Langelaan to present a discreet view of powers in imprudent hands. The unknowable matches well with the unknown, and such a combo terrorizes viewers. In terrorizing them, the makers are honest.

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The honesty is lacking from John Carpenter in the third installment of his Apocalypse Trilogy. The first two are The Thing (1982) and Prince of Darkness (1987). There’s a major point when the entire movie could have been thrown to water, if only the powers to-be acted in best interests of the society. If Sutter Cane’s (Jürgen Prochnow) book was notorious in driving his readers insane, why doesn’t anybody just ban the book, or abolish it? If that works against freedom of expression, well, we don’t have the right to drive people crazy thanks to freedom of expression.

Sure, if all of what John Trent (Sam Neill) experienced was sheer hallucination, which it was—the movie fails again in its ploy to pretend as a hopeful psychological thriller along the lines of The Innocents (1961, a bona-fide classic). With such an intriguing plot—books of a bestselling horror writer driving his readers crazy—Carpenter fails to hit the mark, big time. Poor writing and ineffective treatment would be the reasons. It could have been a masterpiece as a psychological thriller, or a surreal drama, yet the monstrous horror on screen allows few chills, but ultimately fails to invoke any sense of connection with the characters or the story.

Viewers will realize that sanity is fragile, and at any given moment, we could lose it. Sure, that’s a nice start, but what next? Carpenter sends us to the allegorical town of Hobb’s End just to manifest his brilliance as a master scarecrow—scaring us with disgusting beings (Lovecraftian elements) and presenting a redundant drama on the possibility of people ardently believing in the myths present in horror books.

Horror writers do have a knack of deluding themselves with what they write. Stephen Kind openly admitted how he had nearly lost himself while writing The Shining. Here, the writer Sutter Cane seems to lose his own grip of reality, but how is that supposed to make sense when the character he bases the book on, John Trent, himself is lost in a hallucinatory whirlpool?

We get it – they’re all insane and end up believing in what they read and write. Cane is taken over by the monsters he creates and Trent by the monsters he reads in those books. But it’s not just stimulating, let alone enjoying or thought provoking. When you look at Carpenter’s previous classics, especially Halloween (1978) and The Thing (1982), it’s amazing how he loses the plot here.

What makes this even worse is how Carpenter toys with themes of duality and phenomenology in his chaotic world. Trent experiences the world, as it is, through Cane’s books and by the end, he starts seeing the world that way. If there’s a positive in the underbelly of Madness, Carpenter highlights the line between reading a book (or, watching a movie) and being obsessed with it. And that’s the sad part because the premise is so damn good, the movie could have been foundational.

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In the Mouth for Madness can be scary at times. Carpenter masterfully creates an uneasy atmosphere and his control over the visual elements is excellent. Yet, that’s where it ends. With a weak script (written by Michael De Luca) and formulaic execution, Madness is just madness from Carpenter. It’s one of those movies that you either love or hate. I didn’t like it, but I know a handful that would, so all is not lost.

Madness is twisted and sickening and that’s about it to say. Maybe it doesn’t help that I don’t find the works of Lovecraft intriguing either, but hey – at least you could try.

Teorema (1968) – The Theory of Everything

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Pier Paolo Pasolini is a renaissance man in its truest form. Philosopher, poet, novelist, political activist, and a filmmaker, his works are more popular for their political ideologies than for well-weaved narrations. With his roots firmly set on communism, Pasolini told stories from the lens of a Neorealist showing the grave lives of the poor, the proletariats, while underlying the vanity of the lives of the bourgeois. Teorema, or Theorem, is exactly as the name suggests—it formulizes the way of life in Italian society years after the Second World War.

When a strange man (Terrence Stamp) visits the house of a discreet bourgeois, he emanates bizarre vibes seducing the father, the mother, the son, the daughter, and the maid. They find him irresistible and are unable to understand this enigmatic being, yet they’re all attracted to him. In return, this Visitor “grants them their wish” and seduces them one-by-one: the maid, son, mother, father, and daughter.

One morning, he leaves abruptly, and after he leaves, their lives spiral out of control as they seek redemption through their own actions, which doesn’t appear forthcoming for this elite family. There are various interpretations as to who this Visitor could be; whether it is God, or the Devil itself—but that’s not the main point. Whoever this Visitor is, he seduced all of them; everybody (except the maid) confided to him, and ultimately—he transformed their lives, for better or worse.

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Paolo (Massimo Girotti), the father, finds no purpose in living. He renounces his material possessions and strips naked before entering the barren desert—a symbol that recurs throughout the movie.

Lucia (played by famed Italian actor, Silvana Mangano), the mother, realizes that she’s lived a life with no meaning. She has no special skills. She’s merely a passive spectator, without any silver lining. After the Visitor leaves, she wanders around trying to search for this seductive creature and ends up seducing young men who look like him.

Pietro (Andrés Soublette), through his homosexual encounter with the Visitor, loses his innocence and engages in his passion, painting, through which he tries to find the image of this ripple-less man.

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Odetta (Anne Wiazemsky), the daughter, who once negated herself and avoided men, finds herself in love with the Visitor. She tries to live in his memory, but finds herself unable to, thereby, entering a catatonic state.

Finally, Emilia (Laura Betti, playing the maid)—out of all, she was the only one who didn’t confide in the Visitor. She leaves the house, goes to a rural locale, and attains, what we’d call, a state of Nirvana before immolating herself, as she no longer feels the need to burden the world. The Hindus would call this Samadhi.

Teorema is a strange, minimalist movie. With little dialogs and recurrent symbols of bareness in the desert, the clouds drifting above, it symbolizes the nakedness of the bourgeoisie life. It points towards the eventuality of change—an initiation that is beginning to surface the layers of European society. Many theorists argue that Teorema highlights the inability of the elites to live a sacred life in harmony with existence. As a result, they’re unable to attain liberation—unlike the maid who attained Moksha. Yet, the film goes much deeper in its psychological portrayal of the vainness of people who live inside mansions and “own the poor.”

Pasolini uses deep spaces and extreme wide shots to fortify his stance of emptiness. He shows how the world is ultimately open and free to all, and no matter how much we stuff our lives with material possessions; at the end, everybody engulfs into this planet. Everything is without meaning, yet in this meaninglessness – there is divinity.

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In the outskirts of Milan, the poor sympathize with Emilia. In the metro, the rich can’t handle the vibrations of the heart, the purity of the soul, and through nurture—more so than Nature—these people are conditioned in living behind the veil of materialism. When vanity of matter is exposed, they have nothing to hold themselves. They fail to march on and embrace a life of spiritual substance because their souls are as hard and lifeless as their concrete foundation failing to realize that the only thing permanent is change itself.

In the context of the narrative, the Visitor appears to be the self-regulating mechanism of society—theorized into a symbol and well put in account by Pasolini. He, or it, is the subtle element within society that keeps it evolving. Only here, sexuality is the trigger, however, when one analyzes sexuality; it’s also the first path to liberation, of transformation, and towards creation of the new. The Visitor, comes from nowhere, and converts these people—constructing a new avatar within them. This renewed self is much more conscious and intelligent than their previous sleeping selves. But the impressions of their hardcore minds try to reject this rejuvenated self for they are left in a limbo, neither here nor there.

When these transformed beings, fresh as new, look at the world from their new gained perspective, the old starts wearing off; the new starts seeming too wild, too intimidating, and perhaps too wonderful for them to ever comprehend. Their defense mechanism kicks in. Those who could leave behind their traces are left transformed (Emilia) and those who couldn’t, run insane (Paolo), or into a perennial cul-de-sac (Lucia).

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Behind the wonderful visuals and paradoxical story, Teorema, in essence, pays homage to Freud’s psychoanalysis and Marx’s dialectical materialism. Sexuality remains in the subtext throughout the movie. Viewed as a positive force, Emilia in this case, is born again. To those who consider it a passion of the body, the guilt haunts them and to undo one vice, they falter into a series of vices.

Ultimately, though, the theory of oppressor vs. oppressed forms the main text of the film. Whom are they oppressing? Who is oppressing whom? What is matter? What good is materialism? How to evolve from this material state into something far more ethereal—is it even possible? Teorema tries answering these questions, but leaves much to the discretion of the viewer.

Pasolini’s views run throughout the movie. His ideologies of anti-consumerism, communism, and renunciation ultimately form an arc that catapults Teorema as a discourse on society than a feature film. Pasolini isn’t concerned with how the movie progresses. He wants people to talk about the movie after it’s over. And, he’s succeeded because Teorema starts where the story ends. He only gives us the beginning. The middle and the end are entirely up to us.

All of this makes Teorema a peculiar movie that’s a hybrid of documentary, pure montage, and narrative cinema. It’s stimulating and opens the gate to issues surrounding Italy and most of Europe two decades after the Second World War. The movie provokes people into thinking about societal tendencies, about life, and about phenomenology as very few movies have, before or after. And that’s where the movie manages to stump us, with its uncommitted observation of the microcosmic reality present in our society.

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Watch Teorema when you have the time. Sex is treated pure, in its primeval sense, leading to creation of the new, consequently, giving birth to originality, whilst providing a continuum to the inherent virtue of humans. It’s a cathartic movie leaving you with many questions, few answers – and that’s the romance of this splendid movie. It doesn’t say a lot, but the little it does—encompasses the grand theories of an individual’s place in an ever-changing reality.

Phantom of the Paradise (1974) – When the Phantom Meets Dorian Gray in a Faustian Affair

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The ever notorious Brian De Palma builds his gothic drama on the foundation of three classic novels—Gaston Leroux’ Phantom of the Opera, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the German legend, Faust, popularized by Goethe and Christopher Marlowe. As it goes, De Palma does the seemingly impossible by creating a perfect transmutation of three novels featuring the devil, the man who sold his soul to the devil in a Faustian trade-off, and the unlikely musical genius, the Phantom.

Despite borrowing the premises from these classics, De Palma manages to present a shrilling satire on the booming entertainment industry of the 70s—revealing the private lives and behaviors of music artists and recording studio executives. The overarching dominance of corporates over art serves as the central theme. That’s only the beginning though as Phantom of the Paradise treads over mayhem and chaos—disorganization and catastrophe.

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In this devilish drama, De Palma uses his archetypical violence in telling a story of a naïve music composer, Winslow Leach (played by William Finley), who is robbed and destroyed by the executive of Death Records, Swan (Paul Williams)—only to come back as the devil’s double. Jessica Harper stars as Phoenix, the unrequited lover of the Phantom, but De Palma doesn’t spare her either. Her life spirals down to chaos as her fame increases, as people go crazy over her sultry voice and girl-next-door avatar. Leave it to the Phantom to save her though. He secretly writes songs for her. She gives them life and that’s all the Phantom wants. Nevertheless, we have a villain in the perplexing Swan—who does things his way or the highway, and when the Devil himself faces off against the Devil’s Double, we’re in De Palma territory.

Phantom of the Paradise is content-driven and includes themes from the trio of novels, yet also manages to give a commentary on fandom, the entertainment business, monopoly of recording studios, degeneration of artists, frantic stampedes, and the manufacturing of music stars to meet the needs and demands of these studios. Musicians-cum-artists may create magic, but the magic is all in the hands of these moguls who retain it and reuse it as they deem fit, as it fits their agenda.

For a movie that says so much, Phantom of the Paradise is a breezy ride, which is nothing short of sensational considering the gravity of the themes De Palma explores and the novels he bases this fantastic story on. Paradise contains all of De Palma’s idiosyncrasies as a filmmaker. There’s love, sex, violence, treachery, betrayal, sacrifice, and redemption—making this film a thesis on De Palma and his thrilling style.

Then, there’s overindulgence (Swan) and there’s under-indulgence (The Phantom). On one side, we have the power of control. On the other side, we have the virtue of a genius. In the middle is the struggling singer, Phoenix, in oblivion to all of this—trying to create a path to musical glory. Along the way, she loses track, but her omnipresent guardian angel is always there for her, looking out for her—trying to rescue her from the dirty business and attempting to introduce her to the sound of music.

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De Palma’s Carrie (1976), Scarface (1983), The Untouchables (1987), and Mission Impossible (1996) might be more popular than Paradise, but with no qualms, one can safely assert that Phantom of the Paradise is his seminal classic. It’s brutal, gory, and tragic, with some unforgettable scenes shown with a bittersweet touch. It tells a fascinating story of polarities, yet it’s very entertaining. In questioning the underbelly of the music business of the 70s, De Palma not only informs, he entertains. He makes this a joyous watch defying stereotypes. Considering that Paradise is a musical tragedy, the mere fact that it’s warm despite being cold, it’s fun whilst being sad makes this an exemplary piece of art.

What makes Paradise worth it is the fairytale-like presentation. De Palma executes this grave movie with light undertones and sets a fanatical mood. Whatever you see is light-hearted. The gory scenes are shot comically. They’re powerful, but filtered. The villain is what you’d expect from a Disney cartoon—smooth, yet with his own quirks. The Phantom, the unlikely hero, is like Popeye who’s a go-lucky guy that reaches another plane when he smells the air of music, when anybody questions is ingenuity, when people try to plagiarize his compositions, or when they set their evil eyes on his ladylove. His life and his music are only for the Phantom, and more importantly, Phoenix.

None of the actors in this movie really outgrew Paradise. William Finley stars with bravura and naivety as the unlikely Phantom. Jessica Harper steals the show. Three years later, she’d star in Dario Argento’s tour de force, Suspiria—one of the finest horrors ever made, but it’s sad to see that she never reached her true potential as an actor. Paul Williams, a real life musician, probably climbed his highest peak with Paradise. He’s brilliant as the suave, cunning, and quirky Swan—a role, it appears, designed for him.

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Complimented by terrific performances, a brilliant script, and De Palma’s unwavering artistry, Phantom of the Paradise is total non-stop action. Taking you to De Palma’s frenzied world, it clutches onto you and doesn’t let go. A fine addition to New Hollywood of the 70s, Paradise is a mixture of love and hatred forming an untouchable pact that carries the film’s legacy until today. The scar-faced Phantom in a match against the Devil, dressed to kill, all equipped to blow you out – a feat, mission impossible to topple.

Sadanga (2015) – The Six Angles of Torture

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Right from the onset, Sadanga takes you to a world of craziness. A story about a man from the plains, it’s supposed to be a treatise on his life grappling with crime and politics. But nothing works in this wanna-be “neo-noir” flick—a movie that’s more about scenes put together in a poor edit than a story about the dirt of Kathmandu.

Sadanga is about Kalu Yadav, played by Saugat Malla, who seems to have given his best in preparing for this role, but somewhere you have to ask—why does this character have to be from a small village in Madhesh and not from any other part of Nepal. There is no proper logic backing this decision. A decision I admired when I first heard about it and the sole reason my footsteps romanced the floor of the theater.

The creators of this drama have chosen whim over rational in assigning the archetypical role to Saugat Malla ignoring that the story doesn’t demand such a character. In fact, the story doesn’t demand anything – neither your attention, nor your hard-earned money, and definitely not your time. Saugat Malla is loud in his portrayal, but what is even more loud is subtext and stereotypical representation of every character in the film—marked by poor performances and clichés that would cajole you to leave the premises right in the middle, for it is intolerable and the intolerability begins from the first sequence itself.

The ultimate sin, therefore, is the lack of story, or no story. Sadanga feels like a twisted series of misinterpreted pastiches than a movie. To call it a movie would be comical because it’s a succession (or, lack thereof) of shots and sequences put together that is invariably worsened by the lousy performances of Priyanka Karki as the Femme Fatale, Bijaya Lama, the ace entrepreneur who seems to be in a perennial state of throat cancer (no offense) throughout the movie. Not to forget the farce put up by Anup Baral as the DSP, and of course, the cream of the crop, Sauram Raj Tuladhar—who shows just why being a model doesn’t equate to being an actor. A wood’s job is to glorify the jungles but not dance around the wolves. The man is hopeless in his role.

Unfortunately, unlike some invariably bad movies, Sadanga doesn’t have any positives. The cinematography is inconveniently phony, and for the dough spent on the production design, one has to ask again—for the umpteenth time—why can’t Nepali filmmakers ever seem to do something right? Rare instances apart, the whole state of cinema in this glorious nation seems to be held in a perpetual stalemate—led by farcical premises, poor plotting, lack of well-presented stories, and awful performances most of the time. The lack of education in film is astounding for a city, Kathmandu, where filmmaking and studies seem to be rising by the day.

Sadanga is an exhibition about how not to make a movie. The photography, lighting, and editing are amateurish. The dialogs are hopeless and one would presume most of Saugat’s dialogs were written just to show off his abilities to camouflage into characters, which again isn’t that impressive. Perhaps if the screenwriter read any basic book on screenwriting or even watched a film with eyes set on the story progression, maybe, just maybe, we’d have a presentable movie in front of us.

Alas, that’s not the case and of course, the discredit goes to the captain of the ship, the Director, Suraj Sunuwar—who’s also the screenwriter here—for having taken a massive gamble of gambling with the sensibilities of the audiences in creating a horrible product violating the abstract rights of humans to proper films and stories. Avoid.

Rear Window (1954) – Peeping Tom

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Rear Window looks into a close-knit neighborhood—diverse people engaged in personal endeavors, occupied by trifles, and immersed in living.

When ace photographer L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart) is bound to the confines of a wheelchair after an accident, he has to ease into a temporary cast and remain indoors to heal and recuperate. In those long, boring days, he passes time by surveying the activities of his neighbors, observing their lives, and empathizing with their conditions. He’s the poster child of Peeping Tom and loves, notoriously, to peep into the lives of people irrelevant to his.

One night, deep awake, Jeff notices something bizarre from his window. A married man stuffs something in his briefcase and goes out of the house many-a-time. Next day, he finds the wife missing and suspecting this man for murder of his wife, James begins a couch-based investigation – using his binocular, long-focus lens, phone, camera, and his sophisticated girlfriend, Lisa Fremont, played by the dignified Grace Kelly. But, James has a major problem: he doesn’t have rock solid proof against the man. His girlfriend and personal nurse (played by Thelma Ritter) do seem to buy his story. Is that enough though?

Based on a short story by Cornell WoolrichRear Window is a suspenseful crime drama. It’s cramped into the flat of Jeff, with the movie revolving around this bubbly community. A ballerina living opposite to Jeff, a musician to his right, a loony woman a floor below the mysterious couple and of course—the point of attention, the man accused of murdering his sickly wife, living beside the odd couple; these people have their own untold stories and a unique life – amusing and revealing for the temporarily invalid photojournalist.

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Viewers observe the life of a ballerina living in practice, indulging in food, and becoming a prey to man-hunters. The couple upstairs lead their own isolated life, but their tiny dog connects them to the rest of the society. In the same manner, the newly married neighborhood romantics enjoy and engage in amorous activities until they start growing sick of one another. The woman below, who’s lonely and oh so seeking a life partner, finds no respite, whereas the musician—sick and tired of solitude—seeks to find the perfect hymn to instill his life with melody. Not to ignore the couple that most intrigues Jeff, the sickly wife bed-ridden and the husband tired and exhausted, could he have been the one to eliminate this perceptual thorn from his life?

Rear Window opens up a world, a microcosmic reality within society, and tells of the different tales people would witness if only they observed. All you need is to peep around, listen not hear, watch not look, and contemplate not analyze on people’s lives around you to reach an enlightening climax and gain profundity on people and society.

Jeff evolves from the drifter he was initially to a responsible man with a sense of duty when the film climaxes. For Lisa, the elegant socialite, she stands very much different to Jeff’s rogue ways. Yet, love bonds them together – romance sparks a light above their heads. She evolves from the sophisticated Lisa Fermont to the adaptable woman who’d gain from the best experiences of both worlds.

Masked as a thriller, Rear Window is actually a satire, a social drama on the various elements of life. Only when we stand to observe can we really relive life and only when we’re held together by a cast in a predicament unchangeable—can we excel and evolve. It is the law of nature.

The movie is slow at times, but very profound. With minimalistic locations and a tight, claustrophobic charm, Real Window is a movie celebrating reflection. The movie came out 60 years ago; it’s amazing how it hasn’t aged a bit and stands the test of time, unlike many other Alfred Hitchcock classics. The storytelling is crisp, the performances natural, and the world as it is.

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One of Hitchcock’s great films, Rear Window is similar to Dial M for Murder that coincidentally came out later that year, but is shot with a different lens—told by a different narrator. It’s up there with Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960),and The Birds (1963), and has its own unique stamp as one of Hitchcock’s finest thrillers for Rear Window isn’t merely about a crime; it’s about crime and punishment, about actions and consequences, about cause and effects.

If you’re an admirer of Hitchcock’s vision, Rear Window is just what you need to peep into. It tells a lot about Hitchcock and through him—about those around us.

Housebound (2014) – The Phantom of the House

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An eccentric teenager, a divorced Mom living with her boyfriend, a ghost breathing under them, and a madcap of events turning the tides—home detention, after all, blows.

In Housebound, viewers are attuned to a truculent teenager, Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly), after the court sentences her to 8 months of home detention for an attempted bank robbery. Kylie has to return to the place where she grew up and live with her affectionate mother (Rima Te Wiata)—Kylie not quite reciprocating. When she realizes that the house is haunted, through her mother, she thinks her mom’s gone crazy, but soon begins to realize that a ghost in indeed in the premises.

Viewers tend to shun horror-comedies for its whimsical plot and poor execution. Some have excelled, Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) or the original Fright Night (1985), whilst some have taken forms of amusing satires like the Scream series, or even a Cabin in the Woods (2012). Housebound falls in those categories where the director gets the mixture of horror and comedy right and viewers get to watch a cross-blended genre film that’s entertaining as well as freaky.

Gerard Johnstone cited quite a few yesteryear horror classics as his inspiration for Housebound. Movies like Ghostbusters (1984), The Changeling (1980), and The Legend of Hell House (1973) to be precise. Yet, Housebound most famously resembles Gaston Leroux’s classic novel The Phantom of the Opera originally published in 1909/10. Minus the love saga, the suspense of Housebound is quite similar to the mystery in the novel, only this time—a private home is the stage for infamy and terror.

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When Kylie discovers about the murder of a teenage girl decades ago, she’s convinced of something sinister doing the rounds. This also compels her to believe her mom’s version of the story, the living dead lurking in the corners of the house. Simmered with collisions with the House Ghost, Kylie begins to unravel the mystery behind this house and of the ghost that lives with them. What she discovers is hilariously spooky, and the consequent events chuck this movie as a witty, deceptive, and charming horror comedy from the land of the Kiwis.

The quirky characters add an extra dimension that makes Housebound a joyous little tale that could occur anywhere in the world. Not only is it relatable; how often have we seen the eccentric teenage daughter who thinks she’s the bomb, or the mother helplessly loving her rude and profane daughter, and amidst all of this—a third party enjoying the moolah, only for manifestations to bring them together to fight against the common enemy? Add a pinch of action, a dash of suspense, and pour the rubles of hilarity over them; you have a clever entertainer, a droll story, and a beautiful execution of an artifact that’s warm and cold, distant, yet near.

Morgana O’Reilly stuns you with her performance as the electric teenager. The story successfully layers her transformation from an outright pain to a considerate learner, who grows more composed, more deliberate, and more realistic as these circumstances pledge to goad her down. In all of this chaos, her presence of mind stands out—all the time—through which she realizes the importance of being rational, whilst understanding the depth of relationships, the value of acceptance. Looking at it that way, behind the horror and the comic relief, there are themes of overcoming odds and coming of age in Housebound. For Kylie, for her mother, and for her half-father, and last but definitely not the least, for the House Ghost.

Housebound is multi-layered in its themes. You have coming of age on one hand, acceptance on the other, fate at one side, revenge on the other, bonding on one step, and moving forward on the next. Gerard Johnstone embraces these elements crisply and what he does best is entertain viewers while doing so, which is what Housebound is for all the drama and chaos. It’s enjoying and a breezy watch of less than 2 hours. Time just slips by and for the flaws present in the movie, there are quite a few, the balance of horror and comedy, of people and events makes you ignore them and enjoy the movie for what it is.

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Surrounded by idiosyncratic performances and cushioned by an ironic atmosphere, Housebound might be a small-scale movie in comparison; however, the story, performances, and the technical aspects would delude you from the assumption. That in itself is a major honor. Housebound is humorous, spooky, peculiar, and one gem of a horror movie that has its dosages of gore and fright, but is ultimately a movie about warmth, love, and togetherness.

Dial M for Murder (1954) – Textbook Plan

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Based on a stage play, Dial M for Murder is like a play exclusively screened for the curtain. Much of the action revolves around the house of Mr. and Mrs. Wendice. The movie rarely treads out of the house amidst murder, deceit, and treachery—making excellent use of spatial elements. Frederick Knott penned the screenplay that is adapted from his own play.

When ex-tennis player Tony (Ray Milland) finds out about his wife’s affair with common friend, Mark Haliiday (Robert Cummings), he chalks up a petrifying plan to kill his wife and inherit her property. Blackmailing one of his old college friends (Anthony Dawson), Tony envisions a foolproof plan of getting rid of his wife, Margot (played by the classy Grace Kelly). But things do not go as planned for poor Tony after which he improvises another plan to eliminate his wife. In a moment of sheer epiphany, Tony uses the gnarls of law to send his wife into a sentence, thereby, inheriting her estate and taking his willful revenge.

Just like Tony’s plan, Dial M for Murder is a well-planned, meticulous, and an intelligent movie. It builds on the underlying psychologies of the characters and clutches viewers in the home-centric drama of Mr. and Mrs. Wendice. Dial M is quite similar to Rear Window (1954) as both movies appear claustrophobic and entangle in mysteries surrounding wives. While Rear Window is more passionate less tactical, Dial M, on the other hand, is more tactical, less about passion.

What’s unique in Dial M is the mise-en-scene environment. If we ignore the camera movement, Dial M almost feels like a stage play. It has a well-drawn set—the Wendice Apartment—and 95% of the action occur within the confines of this cozy-looking home. Yet, extending beyond this space, the mind does go off for a saunter and Hitchcock does, what he does best—create riveting tension and build towards an imploring climax.

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Despite the themes of deceit and greed, Dial M remains classy. Tony Wendice is a man of elegance. Margot Wendice is a woman of virtue and charm. Mark Haliiday is an empathizer, a detective fiction novelist and journalist—he’s aware of most murder mysteries and the intricacies of planning a perfect murder. His profession does have a major role to convey during the latter sequences of the film—rounding off his character with sincerity.

The star of the show, of course, is Ray Milland for his smooth reprisal as Tony Wendice—the silent assassin who has his way with words, manners, and etiquette. He can think on the spur and can generate ideas with ease. It was almost the perfect get-away, but as they say with crime and punishment—the criminal always leaves behind a trace.

Grace Kelly is her usual elegant self as in most Hitchcockian thrillers. As a free spirit, as the vocal woman, and as the companion of Tony, or the secret lover of Mark, she is on her game—with vivacity and a powerful screen presence. The rest carry off their roles smoothly. Robert Cummings does not have much scope due to the nature of his role, but does a fine job. John Williams, as Chief Inspector Hubbard, is somber yet penetrating and decisive, and he steals the show.

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Dial M for Murder is trademark Hitchcock. It’s jumpy and intriguing despite being a notch below other Hitchcock classics. It can get a bit slow at times, but Hitchcock’s mastery as a storyteller is enough to carry it off to an edgy climax—keeping viewers anticipated and enthralled for most parts. Not to ignore the brilliant extension of time and space, of mise-en-scene elements, and of subtleties only a master could transport with minimalism.

Soul Sister (2015) – Eternal Darkness of the Sauntering Mind

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Soul Sister is dark, dreary, and devoid of life. It’s unbuckled, which makes for a placid experience, but ultimately goads you to tussle with a myriad of illusions set forth by Prashant Rasaily in this pseudo-psychological thriller.

Meet Maya (Namrata Shrestha), a lonesome figure who’s lived under the warmth of her aunt (played by Raveena Deshraj Shrestha) since her Mom passed away when she was still a child. As Maya grows to become one fine woman, her aunt turns her attention to her own life—and at last, settles down. She crosses the oceans of reality with her fiancée (Rajesh Hamal in a cameo) leaving the depressed Maya behind to wrestle with her own illusions.

Maya returns to her old house. It is in this isolated hermitage, she comes to terms with her inner demons, her subconscious setting the stage for a surrealistic finale.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be the case with Soul Sister.

Prashant Rasaily captures the scenic beauties of Sikkim and Kathmandu like it has rarely been shown in Nepali feature films. His intelligent use of lights and beautiful composition of shots need no vindication for audiences conversant with Rasaily’s cinema. Soul Sister has a soulful tone and painted with a gloomy ambience, it feels calm and serene—very mystical. Yet, it’s not a film for everybody. Amidst the murmurs of bored cine goers 10 minutes into the movie, it was clear that the movie failed to hold the attention of the fickle multiplex audiences.

With Soul Sister, Rasaily tries his hand at the so-called Avant-garde cinema rather than laying the emphasis on telling a story about a woman’s journey. Precisely why, Soul Sister seems pretentious, especially the English dialect, which covers 80% of the conversation. For such a grave movie, one would find it difficult not to chuckle after hearing Namrata Shrestha force her oratory muscles with poetic proses that are neither hummable, nor lyrical.

For its flaws, Soul Sister does have an anecdote to tell. A bare tale of a platonic extramarital affair, Prashant Rasaily manages to weave it as a philosophical discourse on human psychology. Maybe taking it a too far in his quest for abstract realism.

As a movie, Soul Sister is a winner at conceptual level, but that is also sadly, where it stumbles. What appears to be a beautiful flash of creative spark seems to have become the blueprint for this movie; the makers not bothering in developing it as a tangible story, which would have been acceptable if the abstract hadn’t imploded in the final act. The climax pours water over anything positive in Soul Sister. It’s not only drastic; it’s impulsive and nullifies the novelty of this otherwise ominous-looking movie.

Soul Sister is perfect imperfection defined. It appears beautiful, but is a classic case of style over substance, vanity over sincerity, indulgence over contemplation. It fails to encompass the nuances of phenomenology or do justice to the theory of absurdity, Rasaily was intending for. Half-baked is the right word.

Sambodhan (2015) – A Hotchpotch of Patriotism

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Akin to last year’s Talakjung vs. Tulke (Nischal Basnet), Sambodhan starts with the Nepali national anthem trying to force patriotism in audiences yet again. What follows this whimsical shot at patriotic chivalry is Hemraj BC’s tilted focus on the statue of the late-great King, P.N. Shah. A man smeared in vermillion underneath this pillar of sovereignty smashes cymbals together in front of the most powerful erection in Nepal’s political landscape. We enter the world of Sambodhan and there begins one of the most comical fests of recent times.

Inspector Ramji Gole, played by Dayahang Rai, is in the middle of one of the most sensational events to take place in Nepal: a series of murder with the murderer signing off these murders by stuffing coins into the mouths of the victims. Perplexed and paralyzed by his own ineptitude, Inspector Gole fields a man-in-a-mission look hiding his gross incompetence under a gritty mask.

Assisting him in the investigation of this bizarre murder mystery is his subordinate played by Binay Bhatta whose entry reminds viewers of a watered-down version of Akshay Kumar’s entry in those countless movies Kumar starred in the 90s playing an honest and macho Inspector. Only this time, the subordinate of Ramji Gole looks clueless in his demeanor—embodying a wooden look throughout the movie.

Inspector Gole is a veteran though with 20 years behind him, yet he’s still an Inspector, which would mean he’s not educated enough, or he’s so bad that the title of Inspector was awarded to him for mere loyalty than actual ability. The latter is obvious as the investigation procedure heats up. Inspector Gole arrests a local goon by the name of CK/Sikke (played by Suleman Shankar aka Ikku), after the phone log of the victims reveal phone calls from his number. Being the smart cop he is, Inspector Gole is convinced that CK/Sikke is the man behind the murders simply because his name carries the acronym CK/Sikke suggesting that the aural resemblance between CK/Sikke and Sikka (coin) is enough to reveal this local goon as the murderer.

Joining this order of excellence is Paru Shakya (Namrata Shrestha), a journalist. She compliments Inspector Gole in his incompetence displaying all the traits of a Page 3 journalist who’s terrible at her work, and so ethically downtrodden, that it’d make tabloids like The Sun and Daily Mail proud of her moral sensibility and professionalism.

To make matters worse, Shrestha, with her unconvincing diction, falls for the young hunk played by Bhatta. The same ace deputy of Inspector Gole who has nothing to do for most parts than serve as an on-screen prop. For the remaining duration, when he does decide to transform wood into furniture, his apparent intelligence works only to bestow a ludicrous air of stupidity to the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB). If he is the most promising officer at their disposal, God bless CIB. And, don’t just yet—for that’s just the beginning of this parody.

When this A-grade team uncloaks the murderer, this comical movie turns into a farcical parody of the Bollywood movie Indian starring Kamal Hassan. A man beaten up by society takes matters into his hand and decides to fight the system on his own, which is hardly unconvincing from an isolated standpoint, but Sambodhan then reveals its cover as a jarring sermon on patriotism and nationalism. As if this wasn’t enough, viewers are then put through the torture of the flashbacks from the People’s War era—something Nepali filmmakers try to abuse in most films resembling patriotism and Nepali politics.

With Sambodhan,  Hemraj B.C. puts together plots from Memories of Murder blending it with Indian, and packaging it as a Nepali entertainer—seemingly spelling the doom of this movie as a serious take on the issue of corruption. He tries to show so much in Sambodhan, it’s not only a mess, it’s downright insulting, lethargic, and a tight slap across the faces of intelligent cine-goers. With its lazy writing, generic characters, and a story well equipped to eject you out of the theaters, viewers would need some conviction to finish this movie from start to finish.

Sambodhan falls in those categories movies that don’t have a silver lining. It’s a clutter. It doesn’t show anything. It doesn’t tell you anything. It only preaches the spirit of patriotism from start to finish. Be prepared to twitch and shuffle in your seats because it’s nonsensical and humiliating. If you’re prepared to suffer agony amidst farce, Sambodhan is for you. If you desperately need to watch a movie, skip this and watch any movie that you can get your hands on.

We’re only just into 2015, but it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Sambodhan might carry the title of the worst movie of the year come December because surely, one would hope and pray, no other movie would be as debauched and pointless as the one you should avoid, Sambodhan.

The Theory of Everything (2014) – A Journey in Time

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It might be okay to say that The Theory of Everything is based on Jane Hawking’s memoir even though director James Marsh films a much glamorized and dramatized version—tweaking facts here and there. The book is an extended summary of Jane’s life with the most famous Physicist alive today, Stephen Hawking.

Much before Stephen Hawking became the Hawking; he walked, talked, and moved like every other person. Behind this theorist in physics was a genius youngster budding to know more about the universe, the black hole, and time. Yet, The Theory of Everything isn’t about science and Hawking’s feat as a scientist. It treads on a path few know: his love life, his personal story, and his trials and tribulations as a youngster, later adult, who was supposed to perish years before A Brief History of Time, but he persevered, he moved on, and made a mark on the world.

Meet young Stephen W. Hawking (Eddie Redmayne), an Oxford undergrad student. During these days of exuberance, Hawking meets Arts students, Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones). They formulate something spectacular together, whilst enjoying the blossoming of love and admiration for one another. Stephen likes Jane, she likes Stephen—a marriage of arts and science, what more could anybody ask for? But the universe had other plans for Stephen and Jane.

In his early days as a Ph.D. student at Cambridge, doctors diagnose Hawking of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a motor neurone disease, which has since defined him. Because of this degenerative condition, Hawking would lose control over his basic motor functions, his muscles progressively lapsing. The doctors predict 2 years tops after which Hawking would escape the tangible whole, and be born into the intangible infinity. Such was, of course, not to be the case—for Stephen Hawking happened to be born the very day he realized, he was on borrowed time.

The Theory of Everything is a nostalgic fare even if you’ve never experienced the English college scene or the social life in the 60s. It has a Victorian feel to it and flanked by soulful background scores (Jóhann Jóhannsson) and absorbing images (Benoît Delhomme), the movie seems straight out of a Jane Austen novel than a rendering of an ex-wife’s version of the her time with her genius husband. As expected, the movie is closer to Jane Wilde’s biography than Hawking’s My Brief History, but Marsh makes it appear more romantic, more prosaic than Jane articulated in the book.

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Theory is more artistic than scientific, more about the heart than the mind, more about domestic life than wild work. This isn’t surprising though as Jane Hawking is a Professor of Romanticism and a laureate of Medieval Spanish Poetry. She tells this story from her lens, which isn’t always sweet, but feels genuine. Artistically enhanced by the screenwriter’s (Anthony McCarten) own fancy, Theory grows as a wistful unrest between two people with different ideologies—one a bratty atheist, other the brooding Christian.

Later in their lives, Jane Wilde slips out of romance with Hawking and pursues another man, a musician, Jonathan Hellyer Jones (Charlie Cox). Stephen can only witness this with his eyes, process it with his brain, and accept it with his psyche. With time though, the universe sends another partner for Stephen in the form of his nurse and soon to be closest confidante, Elaine Mason (Maxine Paeke). He cultivates a fondness for her and she does too—worshipping the dust beneath his wheels. In real life though, controversy ever surrounded this couple, which later materialized in a divorce in 2006.

Although March and McCarten sugarcoat major events of the movie, we still get a picture closer to reality. The duo hasn’t shied from taking ample, yet effective cinematic liberty in their pursuit to forge a warm story. Both Stephen and Jane are humans, rooted to the core, and Marsh attempts to focus on their highlight reel, whilst shunting the behind-the-scenes bloopers under the bed, which is why Theory, as a standalone, settles as a cozy tale rather than a cent percent authentic reflection of the lives of both Stephen and Jane.

Felicity Jones assumes the avatar of Jane Wilde in a manner that would make the owner of the name proud. She’s splendid as the girl depressingly in love, as the wife of Hawking, as the mother of three, and as the secret lover of a fellow artist. Her growth from Ms. Wilde to Mrs. Hawking to soon-to-be Mrs. Jones is marvelously summed up by her stern performance. Even though her character comes across as self-centered at times, this oddity gives Jones a platform to execute her acting prowess, which she does with vindication. Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking is flawless—very similar to the man himself. The mannerisms, speech, style, and even the look, a great job by the make-up and design artists, Eddie has to be a front-runner for the nominations this year.

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The Theory of Everything is an elegiac experience that speculates about love and compassion more so than science and evolution. It’s a rekindled narrative of hope and passion and one gem of a movie—if only you absorb it as cinema and not a word-by-word adaptation of a biography. Playfully poetic in its prose, romantic amidst pragmatism, and a bittersweet tale, just be sure to ignore reality and immerse yourself into the universe of the movie.