Monday, 28 December 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

A tale of emancipation and the death of religion.

A near perfect blend of practical and CGI effects, senseless violence and subtext, artiface and reality, the big spectical and the internal dialogue.

The Handmaid's Tale for the 21st century.

Immortan Joe,
V8 be your name.
No water come,
your law will be done,
on the road, as it is in Valhalla.
Give us this day our gasoline,
and forgive our weakness,
as we suck a new blood bag.
And let us not die soft,
but go out with our grills chromed.
Forever and ever mate.

— The Warboy's Prayer

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.

— Ephesians 5:22-33

Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.

But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

For Adam was first formed, then Eve.

And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.

Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.

— Timothy 2:11-15

"Abandonment of slavery is also the banishment of the chimera of security. The world will not change overnight, and liberation will not happen unless individual women agree to be outcasts, eccentrics, perverts, and whatever the powers-that-be choose to call them."

— Germaine Greer, "The Female Eunuch"

"This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women's equal rights across the world for centuries. At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.... The truth is that male religious leaders have had -- and still have -- an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter."

— Jimmy Carter, "Losing My Religion for Equality"

"I am one of the Vuvalini! Of the many mothers! My Initiating Mother was K.T. Concannon! I am the daughter of Mary Jabassa. My clan was Swaddle Dog!"

— (no longer) Imperator Furiosa

Letterboxed Review

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Giallo Buying Guide

I've added a new Buying Guide for Giallo films on DVD and Blu-Ray. So far there are 51 films in the list and I may add some more in the future.

You'll find a link to the Buying Guides in the "Pages" section in the right-hand column and I've also included a link in this post that goes directly to the Giallo list.

I hope you find it useful and if you spot any errors or know of better releases, please let me know.

Buying Guide: Giallo

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Cube (1997) & Cube 2: Hypercube (2002)

Cube (1997)

Seven people trapped inside a large Rubik's Cube discuss religion, chaos theory and nihilism, while dodging devilish traps and personal insecurities.

Cube is an existential sci-fi horror film with passable acting, clever set design and some good ideas.

The long dark night of the soul on a budget.

Cube 2: Hypercube (2002)

Ten people trapped inside a large Rubik's Cube discuss bugger all, while dodging cut-price CGI traps and the need to kill an irritating old lady.

Cube 2: Hypercube is a terrible sci-fi horror film with some truly horrendous acting, dull set design and no idea what the term quantum really means.

The long dark night of my soul on a larger budget.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)

We have Christmas traditions. We buy and decorate the tree on the first weekend before Christmas day, even though most places have already sold out due to people starting their celebrations in November. We put the kids stockings on their bed during Christmas night, after 1am, even though they're aged 22 and 14. The stockings always have an orange, an apple, chocolate money and a pair of socks in them. We eat croissants, fresh coffee and orange juice for breakfast. I pick up our parents and presents are exchanged. I cook a large meal with all the trimmings for the family. We always, as a family, walk the dog after lunch. And every single year we watch National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

And things would go wrong.

When I was a kid we would cut our own tree and every year it was too tall for the front room. One year we bought a short tree only to cut the ties and have it explode outwards and take up half the front room. There would be arguments over the silliest things. I have sledded, whilst drunk, down a hill and across a road. Of course every year the lights would fail due to a blown bulb or fuse. Every single year something would fuck up, but it didn't matter. Not in the slightest, because Christmas is bigger than all that and that is precisely what National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is all about.

Possibly the most accurate Christmas movie ever made.

Merry Christmas everybody! Hallelujah! Holy shit, where's the Tylenol?

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man (1976)

I watched the 88 Films Blu-Ray in Italian with English subtitles.

Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man is great title but will the film live up to it?

Directed by Ruggero Deodato (Cannibal Holocaust, House on the Edge of the Park), with a screenplay by Fernando Di Leo (Milano Calibro 9, The Boss) and starring Marc Porel (Don't Torture a Duckling, The Psychic) as Fred and Ray Lovelock (Almost Human, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue) as Tony; a pair of plain clothes police officers who belong to "The Special Squad". They don't care about the rules and if anyone at city hall doesn't like it, they can swivel! Backing them up is their boss Adolfo Celi (Thunderball). How's that for an exploitation pedigree!

There really isn't much of a plot. There's a basic storyline in which our two heroes try to take down the local kingpin who, meanwhile, is trying to discover their identities. That's not really very important as it's all about how they get to that end point. It seems that there's a shoot-out, car/bike chase, punch-up or sex every 10 minutes.

The film starts with Lovelock (in full-on Robert Redford mode) getting a "backy" from Porel on his motorbike to some groovy sounds. They both look so clean cut. It's almost like a younger and more handsome Ratso giving Joe Buck a ride. This is a real pair of handsome fuckers! However, this no ordinary bike ride and the dynamic duo foil a nasty mugging and take off after the scumbags and into what is probably the best vehicle chase scene in Italian cinema history; impressively chaotic and destructive. No cardboard boxes or sheets of glass were harmed although a poor guide dog doesn't fair too well.

From here on in the film is a wild storm of sex and guns.

Often compared to Dirty Harry, to me Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man is more like those boy's own, buddy cop movies and shows from the 1970s: Starsky & Hutch, The Professionals, The Sweeney, and the freeze-frame ending was straight out of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I've also read about the homoerotic subtext, but I believe that the two leads are more like two little boys who just never grew up. The women in the film treat them as boys and not men. The city is their playground where they play "war" against another gang of boys (note the target practice scene in the quarry at 01:12:00). When you think about it, most of these type of films follow the same pattern of men as boys and I don't think that there's anything particularly wrong with that at all. Fred and Tony may be sociopathic boys, but boys nonetheless.

Yes, there's a fair amount of chauvinism but this is tempered quite brilliantly by the attitudes of the women. During one scene they ask their boss's secretary with which of them she'd like to sleep; she replies with an unexpectedly brilliant comeback. A little while later there's a scene where both Tony and Fred are screwing a suspect's sister, the woman is dominant throughout and exhausts the men. Finally, their libido's nearly gets them killed. Most progressive and un-Italian!

The performances are terrific with a real chemistry showing between the two leads. There's a cool and funky soundtrack that's all full of horns, Rhodes keyboard and loads of groove. The film is immaculately shot with really impressive camera-work during the action scenes and some excellent gore effects with loads of Humbrol red blood. The dialogue has a natural touch and doesn't sound at all forced. It's also nicely witty in places.

The 88 Films Blu-Ray has an excellent picture and sound. The subs are pretty good and seem to follow the dialogue with only the occasional spelling or grammatical error. The only extras are a trailer and some stills, but both English and Italian soundtracks are included.

Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man has high octane thrills, handsome fuckers with guns, bike chases and explosions. It's loud, crude, funny and energetic. One of the finest buddy/cop movies ever made.

Letterboxd Review

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Don't Torture a Duckling (1972)

I watched the Shameless DVD with the original Italian soundtrack and English subtitles.

Young boys are being murdered in a beautiful Italian town and it's up the local carabinieri and a reporter to discover the rotten truth that lurks beneath its idyllic surface.

Don't Torture a Duckling stars the beautiful Florinda Balkan, previously seen in Fulci's Lizard in a Woman's Skin, the equally stunning Barbara Bouchet (The Red Queen Kills Seven Times), and Tomas Milian from Umberto Lenzi's violent poliziotteschi, Almost Human.

The film starts as it means to go on with a spooky opening scene of Bolkan's character, Maciara (an alleged local witch) digging up the skeleton of a young child in the hills outside a medieval Italian town. It's here that Fulci starts several juxtapositions running throughout the film, with the old stone buildings of the town and the new motorway overpasses that lead to it.

Fulci doesn't hang around and the suspects are introduced almost immediately; as well as Maciara there is Barra, a local peeping tom and Bouchet's character Patrizia, a rich young thing who loves to flirt with young boys.

The police are not totally ineffectual for once, although they are very quick to jump to conclusions and seem intent on solving the murders as quickly as possible no matter who gets hurt on the way. Running parallel to their investigations are the enquiries made by Martelli, a newspaper reporter played by Milian. Both methods run counter-productive to each other with the police leaping from suspect to suspect using overwhelming force, supposition and aggression, thus causing tension and breeding suspicion in the town. Whilst the quiet detective work of Martelli at first seems more effective it also has its problems; the most obvious being his rearranging of a crime scene to create a better photo for his newspaper.

The tone of the film is not unlike the rural horror films of the sixties. Duckling is shot through with the old: the crumbling town, witchcraft, the medieval trappings of Catholicism, dark churches, skeletal statues, ritual and litany intersecting with the new: the motorway overpasses, radio soap operas, the modernity of Patrizia's house and lifestyle. Juxtaposition and duality abound: rich/poor, old/new, tradition/modernity, outward appearances/inward morality, Christianity/Paganism, logic/superstition, innocence/sexuality, tolerance/persecution, light Patrizia/dark Maciara.

Very nicely shot and filled with close-ups and medium shots which, as well as giving the film an air of claustrophobia also does a great job of internalising the collective grief of the town. Some of the fast edits are excellent, with the same character moving from one location and time to another without any jarring at all.

There are several shocking moments, unusually involving the discovery of dead children and there are some very good, infrequent gore scenes of the type that Fulci is justly famous for. The scene where Maciara is attacked is extremely well done and very similar to the violent chain whipping from his later film, The Beyond. Also, the duck motif (obviously in the name but also as a child's toy in the third act) pops up again in Fulci's later exploitation classic The New York Ripper. Overall, for once Fulci is extremely restrained and forgoes his usual exploitative touches.

The film features an atmospheric soundtrack by the prolific Riz Ortolani (Seven Blood-Stained Orchids, Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye, Cannibal Holocaust) although I wasn't too sure about the rock and pop tracks used during the persecution of Balkan's character. It does fit with the theme of duality but it is more than a little jarring.

The children are great and full of devil-may-care attitude, daring do, cigarettes, catapults, grazed knees and add a real air of realism to the film. Balkan is all wild hair and wide staring eyes - she really does look like she stepped out of Witchfinder General. Milian is very good as the dogged reporter but is a little underused in the first two acts. Really though the film belongs to the women and children.

The picture is okay but a little blurry or dark in places but really deserves a proper Blu-Ray release. Watch it as a double bill with The House with Laughing Windows or Who Saw Her Die.

Don't Torture a Duckling deserves its reputation as a gialli classic.

Letterboxd Review

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Return of the Living Dead (1985)

A rewatch with the kids.

Burt, Ernie and the rabid weasels bring on the zombie love yet again!

           U R
          T I S
         A S L A
      V E D R I V E
     R A N D A C H E
    A P S O N O F A B
  I T C H W H O S G O I

Original review

Friday, 11 December 2015

Who Saw Her Die? (1972)

This is the Shameless DVD that I'm watching. Apparently this release is very slightly longer than the Blue Underground DVD. Both are have a dubbed English soundtrack.

I'm a big fan of the social commentary lurking behind Aldo Lado's 1975 rape revenge flick, Night Train Murders (L'ultimo treno della notte) and his 1971 gialli Short Night of Glass Dolls (La corta notte delle bambole di vetro), and I'm hoping that Who Saw Her Die? will similarly deliver the goods.

Made a year before Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now, Lado's Who Saw Her Die? shares similar themes of grief and guilt. Even the famous sex scene is here, admittedly in an abbreviated form but it still shows the outpouring of grief through sex.

In France, a young girl is viciously murdered whilst sledding by a mysterious black clothed killer. We are immediately asked the question "Who Saw Her Die?" in thick red lettering seen through the killer's black veil. It is simultaneously an open invitation for the viewer to solve the crime and also an indictment of our passivity as bystanders. Is it our fault that she died? Easily the best and most intriguing title sequence I've seen in a gialli.

The action then shifts to Venice and sculptor Franco (played by George Lazenby, who only two films earlier was on top of the world playing James Bond) and his young daughter Roberta. The wife/mother is absent and we learn that the couple have drifted apart. Instead of rushing headlong into the killings, Lado takes his time and introduces us to the film's characters. We lean about them, their backgrounds, motivations, relationships. We start to care about them.

From this point on the suspects and red herrings are laid on thick and fast. Is the killer the man who was scarred in a fencing accident, the friend who takes a little too much interest in the young Roberta? The decadent art dealer? Someone else entirely? The tension is then really cranked up with multiple failed attempts to kill Roberta until finally the inevitable happens. The killer strikes again.

From here on we follow Franco on a frantic hunt through labyrinthine alleys as Venice shifts from being beautiful and filled with laughter to a dark place that is twisted, confusing and frustrating. Meanwhile the killer shifts their attention from children to anyone who may have seen Roberta die.

The last 20 minutes of the film will have you on the edge of your seat as suspect after suspect is dealt with, until the final shocking reveal.

There is great cinematography from Franco Di Giacomo (Il Postino) and Ennio Morricone's soundtrack of children singing is evocative and fits both the film and its themes well. Lazenby is terrific as the grieving father and his performance far surpasses that of his 007. Nicoletta Elmi, who plays his daughter, is a little star who obviously had great chemistry with Lazenby and later appeared in both Dario Argento's Deep Red and Lamberto Bava's Demons.

As for the social commentary: it does seem that Lado, yet again, has it in for the bourgeoisie. It may not be as overt as in Night Train Murders but it's there nonetheless. The victims are daughters of upper middle class families (the first has a nanny, the second's father is a sculptor). Venice itself being an affluent and bohemian location. Conversations about art, money, travel are heard throughout the film. Even something as simple as the white clothes that the father and his friends wear display social position - no poor person could afford to wear something that could get dirty so easily. Also many of the main characters are portrayed as morally bankrupt and corrupt; of course there's one thing more corrupt to a socialist than the bourgeoisie but I don't want to give the game away. Finally there's also a strong hint of the type of conspiracy found in Lado's Short Night of Glass Dolls.

Who Saw Her Die is, like Short Night of Glass Dolls, not too bloody but what blood there is is of that bright red Italian stuff that looks like Humbrol enamel paint, and either you love it or hate it. I love it.

The quality of the Shameless DVD was very good with a sharp and colourful print (apart from what seems to be the occasional splicing fuckup), and a soundtrack that doesn't overpower the clear dialogue. In fact the dialogue is far better than the usual badly translated dubbing we get with Italian films.

I may be biased due to my Lado love but I really enjoyed this film and think it has a lot to offer. A top notch gialli!

Letterboxd Review

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Dark Power (1985)

The film starts with a young boy, aged about ten, walking through the woods with his toy bow and sucker-tipped arrows being chased by a pack of dogs. What! A boy aged ten in the 1980s should have made his own bow and nail tipped arrows and also had a belt full of pipe bombs! To be honest the dogs look more cuddly than vicious and I'd have been more afraid of being licked to death than mauled. Anyway, the snivelling and ill equipped boy is saved from his canine fate by an old beardy boy scout with a bull whip... Ladies and gentlemen I give you Lash Larue. Get used to the whip because he sure likes to use it! It was like party time at Madam Cyn's house during Parliament recess!

So the story is that an old man who kept some Toltec evil buried under his house dies and it's up to Lash Larue to put that genie back in the proverbial bottle. Unfortunately the house is soon let to four nubile young women and a creepy, racist brother. After that we just have to wait for the rather ridiculous killing to start.

The first half of the film almost like a show-reel for Lash Larue and that damned whip of his. Enough with the fucking whip! Plus his wise old man shtick gets a little tiring after a while.

There's a fair amount of "everyday racism" and a few n-bombs and I was hoping that the perpetrators were to be quickly dispatched as punishment. No, it took far too long. In fact it took way too long for any of them to die. Every one of these little bastards seemed to have stepped straight out of a shitty Porkies rip-off. At one point one of them flosses her teeth! Why do that on camera? Why not have a shit as well? Please stop it!

The four Toltec zombies are terrible with some of the worst masks and outfits I've seen in a horror film. Their bows seem to have strings made from underwear elastic, most of the killing scenes are pretty disappointing, and the comedic zombie routines were utterly misplaced. And that fucking xylophone that played when ever they were on screen drove me nuts! Plus that house must have the best sound insulation ever to stop the girls inside from hearing the zombie shenanigans going on outside.

Then, at long last Lash Larue and that fucking whip turns up to save the day. What do we get? Fucking "cavalry charge" music! That's right, a bearded white man turns up to save the poor women from the Native Americans with a trumpeted charge and a whip! Oh dear. A little while later, during a very, very, very dull bull-whip duel, he even calls one of the zombies "boy". As far as saving the day goes I don't think you could get any more racist unless there were a few burning crosses on the lawn.

Dark Power's biggest problem though is that its nearly 50 minutes until you see any blood! Simply inexcusable!

Unfortunately the picture on my Dead of Night DVD was bright and clear with reasonably clean audio, although the soundtrack does tend to drown out the dialogue a little.

Rubbish. Do yourself a favour and pass this one by. Anyone want to buy a DVD?

Letterboxd Review

Freak (1999)

From the deepest darkest recesses of my DVD collection comes Freak, a film, apparently so obscure that only two people on Letterboxd have watched it.

Reading the synopsis on the back of the case:

"It was twenty-five years ago that the horror began; a hideously deformed, physically deformed and brutalised 9-year-old boy murders his tyrannical and abusing mother. Now the horror is about to start all over again..."

This all sound very familiar! Come on, how bad can it be?

The film starts, as in the description, with a young boy being treated like shit by his mother. The mother is suitably nasty and after giving birth to another child tosses it in a brazier to burn. This seems to be what tips her son over the edge and he brutally kills her by bashing in her head with a large rock. Off to the loony bin with you young man! Nine years later (not the 25 reported on the DVD case) he escapes whilst in transport and heads home and straight into the path of a young woman and her kid sister.

Freak is a pretty atmospheric film, with subtle Dutch angles, low shots of the boy's spooky house, shadows and a good soundtrack. Much like Halloween (an obvious influence), Freak is definitely all about atmosphere and tension, although the aforementioned mother killing scene is nicely gruesome.

There are a few silly plot-holes - like why would someone have a shotgun and shells rolling around in the back of an open pickup, and why didn't the killer take it with him? Also, just like in Halloween, the killer mysteriously knows how to drive a truck even though he's been locked up for the past nine years! There is also some unnecessary exposition from a psychiatrist's tape recording. The previous scenes covered most of it quite well enough and I felt it wasn't really needed.

At one point there's a very, very brief shot (less than a second) inserted into a scene of the protagonist being chained up in a van. I assumed this was an editing fuck-up but after watching in slo-mo I discovered that the insert was of the child being chained by his mother. A nice touch, just a shame they didn't make it a little more obvious by increasing the length of the edit by a second or two. These brief flashbacks are a frequent occurrence throughout the film (luckily they are a little longer) and work very well in tying the killer's mental state to the abuse he suffered as a child.

The performances range from quite good to adequate and Amy Paliganoff plays a great Laurie Strode like, proactive, female lead, but the real star is Spider the ferret! I have a real soft spot for ferrets and their floppy ways. The killer is played by the film's director, Tyler Tharpe.

Freak is a nicely atmospheric and effective low budget slasher heavily influenced by Halloween and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre while still retaining its own distinct feel. It's only 75 minutes long and occasionally it does drag a little in places. It could have done with a little more plot substance and a little more tension during the long driving sequences. Some parts are a little out of focus and fuzzy, some are over-saturated and some are very dark. I guess most of these we caused by a limited lens and film choice (I got the feeling that it was shot on various film stocks). The sound is pretty muffled in places and has some occasional unwanted background noise due, I guess, to badly placed mikes.

Not bad at all and it's available on Amazon for £0.01!

Letterboxd Review

Monday, 7 December 2015

Black Belt Jones 2 (1978)

A giant diamond has been stolen and it's up to ex-CIA agent Lucas to get it back. Fists, legs and boobs abound!

Black Belt Jones 2 stars Jim "Enter the Dragon" Kelly and Tao-Liang "Flash Legs" Tan and is directed by Tso Nam Lee who also gave us the Brucesploitation classics Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger and Fist of Fury 2. This cheap flick combines a little Blaxploitation, martial arts and a basic crime thriller plot in one cheesy package. Note, however, that it has nothing at all to do with the original, Robert Clouse directed, Black Belt Jones.

My DVD came from Moonstone and seems to be transferred from a dirty film source in a pillar-boxed 4:3 ratio. The dialogue is pretty badly dubbed and it also has those wonderful "THWACK" sounding contact noises. Just the way I like 'em!

The film and the action starts immediately... I mean straight away, like the film had already been running for 10 minutes and I'd somehow missed it. No trailers, no menu, just...

Gang leader: "What do you want?"
Tin-hao: "Is that one-eyed bastard here?"
Gang leader: Who the hell are you? You dare call our boss that?
Tin-hao: You bums obviously don't know me!
Gang leader: Oh I know you! You're one of Lu's men, the one they say can kick like a mule.
Tin-hao: Well, if you know who I am, then that's the best that can come out!
Gang leader: Watch out, you're on our turf now.
Tin-hao: I couldn't give a shit who this area belongs to. Where I am always belongs to me.
Gang leader: Well then, maybe I want to find out if that's the truth? Hippy!

To be honest I wasn't sure about the "Hippy" as that part of the dialogue was a little garbled but I like the idea of someone calling a Saturday Night Fever dressed Tao-Liang Tan Hippy.

Jim Kelly's acting ability hasn't improved since Enter the Dragon and in fact it seems to have somehow gotten worse (this could possibly be due to having to dub his own voice). Then again, who gives a fuck? He's tall, black, cool and cocky as fuck, even though he does look like a tennis pro on occasion. His karate based fighting is pretty good and in the later scenes really quite impressive, but it plays second-fiddle to Tao-Liang Tan's explosive legs and ultimately it's the Asian actors who shine in this film.

Korean born Tao-Liang Tan is great as Tin-hao, your typical gangster with a sense of honour. His fighting is excellent with some terrific leg work. Interesting fact: Tan taught Bruce Lee's daughter, Shannon.

Chan Sing plays Lu the gang boss and has an impressive presence and a great moustache. I'd say he's the best actor of the lot.

Hong-Kong favourite Bolo Yeung even pops in for a few scraps and an argument with a ship's chef over some pet rabbits. The highlight however is when Yeung taunts Tin-hao with some atrocious singing!

The plot of Black Belt Jones 2 is simple enough with a few plot twists to keep thing interesting - just enough to hang 90 minutes of kung fu action onto.

The soundtrack is flute led funk with lot's of groovy percussion. There's also a couple of Suzi Quatro tracks in a strip-club scene!

The final fight scenes are really very good, with some great choreography; they're athletic, fluid, well filmed and they use the environment and props well, with Tao-Liang Tan versus Chan Sing being the stand out of the whole film, although Kelly's big fight proves he was no slouch either. Sure there's the usual problem of punches and kicks not connecting enough but overall I was really impressed!

Black Belt Jones 2 is nicely paced, has competent camera-work and editing, some ropey dialogue, strippers, boobs, a few hairy bushes, great action scenes, tattoos that appear and disappear at random, an hilarious chess analogy, a Crank 2 style drug fuelled striptease, and a bizarre rape scene with Formula One stills inserted into it.

Don't expect a restored Asian classic with 5.1 sound and lots of  extras (scene selection is all you get with the Moonstone release). This is a pretty good action film with little slack that'll keep you entertained for its 90 minute runtime. Far better than I thought it would be.


"Your Chinese legs aren't bad"
"Why, thank you. How does defeat taste?"

Letterboxd Review

Sunday, 29 November 2015

127 Hours (2010)

I've had this Blu-Ray since it came out and still hadn't watched it, even though it features climbing and I'm a bit of a climber. Time to put that right.

An ill equipped man trapped by his own stupidity, looses his arm in a beautifully shot canyon.

James Franco plays Aron Ralston, a Sisyphus like "Xtreme" sports man-child driven by his own arrogance to spend a week pushing at a boulder. Therein lies the problem for me; I really dislike that particular portrayal of climbing and the outdoors life. Self-absorbed, baggy clothes wearing, techno-listening, photo-opportunists taking stupid risks just to grab a sponsorship deal and look cool.

I got that the film was using his near death experience show Ralston what a shallow and lonely person he had been and that he needed to change to survive. This could very well be the reason that he stupidly told no one of his trek - he had no one to tell, and for this I feel truly sorry for the man. I sincerely hoped that he took this experience and became a more humble and grounded person... but no, the first thing he does when free is to take a fucking selfie! Then onward to the speaking tours, publishing deals and, of course, this film. In fact the most telling sequence in the film is of Ralston pretending/hallucinating being on a talk-show as the special guest.

Enough of my moaning, how was the film itself? I found the photography, while beautiful, was a little too kinetic and hyperactive for me. Split-screen, dropped frames, sped-up film. This is everything I want to leave behind when climbing (although really, this is more scrambling than climbing). Give me focus and peace any day.

James Franco's performance is great, flawless really. It's just that I don't like the person he's playing.

The plot? Like all films that rely on an impressive set-piece at the end, it must have enough substance during the journey to keep you interested. Personally, I don't think 127 Hours had that - a few flashbacks doesn't make a story. I was either bored or irritated for the majority of the film.

One shot that really did annoy me for it's cheapness was of Ralston preparing for his trek and searching on a high shelf for his Swiss Army knife. His hand flaps to either side trying to find the elusive knife before he gives up and decides to go without it.

As for the soundtrack. Playing Lovely Day over Ralston struggling against his bolder does not make you clever. It's the sort of simplistic cinematic shorthand that I hate.

What should have been an interesting film about the dichotomy between temporary pain and long term survival ended up with me wanting him to cut his throat and not his arm.

So, what did we learn? If you're going trekking, climbing, skiing, diving, hunting or whatever; tell someone where you are going and when you'll be back and just remember kids: perfect planning prevents piss poor performance.

Style over substance and my least favourite Danny Boyle film.

Letterboxd Review

Thursday, 12 November 2015

The Guts and the Glory: The Motörhead Story (2005)

Phil Taylor, the original Animal, is dead!

Years ago my kids had two guinea pigs: Fast Eddie and Lemmy. I always felt bad that I never let them get Philthy Phil and complete the line-up of the greatest guinea pig rock 'n' roll band of all time!

I missed seeing Motörhead in 1983 through lack of funds but finally saw them in '91 with Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor on drums in the Guildhall in Portsmouth (with Wolfsbane if I remember correctly).

This short (65 minutes) documentary is totally worth it just to hear the bickering between Phil and Lemmy. It's really just a load of anecdotes strung together, but what fucking anecdotes they are! Informative and really fucking funny. To be honest though the documentary, just like life, gets a little dull when Phil leaves. Luckily he's back soon enough and everything's right again.

5 stars just for Phil, an awesomely fast, powerful and influential drummer who will be sorely missed. Bye, bye Phil, you little rat bastard.

"This is no reason to cover a man with cheese!"

Letterboxed Review

The Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974)

I watched the Raro Video DVD in Italian with English subs, and oh joy, the DVD is one of those "I'm going to vibrate your DVD player until you go fucking crazy" discs!

So, are we ready to head down the rabbit hole? There may be a few small spoilers on the way.

Influenced by the first two films in Polanski's Apartment Trilogy (Repulsion [1966], Rosemary's Baby [1968]), the occult films of the late 1960s (Night of the Eagle sprigs to mind), a touch of Gaslight [1940/1944] and the psychology hidden behind Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, The Perfume of the Lady in Black is a gialli that plays with the standard elements of the genre to give us a hallucinatory psychodrama instead of a slasher flick. Yes it has certain well-known giallo motifs: light/shadow, architecture, mental collapse, hallucinations, the macabre, sex/violence, mirrors and glass, spiral staircases, and of course J&B Whiskey; but don't go expecting a black gloved killer and an ending that wraps everything up in a nice neat package.

Mimsy Farmer plays Silvia, a chemist who begins to see visions of her dead mother and flashbacks to her life as a child, her mother's suicide, abandonment by her father and abuse by her mother's lover. Slowly her world starts to crumble but is it her memories or a bizarre conspiracy that causes her breakdown.

Yes, The Perfume of the Lady in Black does borrows liberally from Rosemary's Baby but this is very much it's own film and to suggest otherwise does it a great disservice. The theme of witchcraft and the paranormal is introduced subtly and from various sources: the wind rustling through the trees whilst Silvia looks at her mother's grave, the black cat, small incidental conversations witchcraft, the clairvoyant, a thunderstorm. We get the idea that something supernatural is involved but it's never actually stated as such. The same goes for the conspiracy; friends and family act a little oddly, strangers glance knowingly, coincidences abound, but nothing is too obvious. In fact we start to feel as paranoid as Silvia.

Throughout the film we have the idea of dreams as reality. A cat seen in a vision later appears in real life, likewise with a vase and this is where my earlier reference to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland comes in. At one point in the film Sylvia, in effect, grows smaller as she conjures a vision of herself as a child who then accompanies her throughout the last third of the film. Even the Mad Hatter's tea party makes a horrific appearance. Just like Alice, Sylvia builds her own world from the crumbling bricks of her psyche and in this world everything is a little skewed and off centre.

Childhood is another major theme throughout and Farmer portrays Sylvia as innocent and childlike, from her waif-like appearance (Rosemary's Baby again) to the toys (small doll, model theatre, Mickey Mouse clock, the Alice in Wonderland book) she still keeps from her childhood. During a game of tennis, she pricks her hand on a nail (a fairytale needle or thorn if ever there was one) and her boyfriend's business partner "kisses it better". There is even the proverbial "monster under the bed" in the shape of her mother's lover. This all leads slowly towards the inevitable corruption of childhood and her final break from reality. We know her mental collapse is complete when, in a taxidermist's, she writes her childhood address down in a hesitant child's handwriting. Unfortunately all this leads to the greatest crime and the destroyer of innocence - paedophilia. Firstly implied in a vision and then later it becomes reality when, as an adult, she is raped by the same man from her vision; her dress, mental state and the way she cowers makes her a child again.

Oddly, at the end of the film she sprays herself with perfume and dresses like her mother. She replaces her mother and is the parent to her hallucination of the child Sylvia. She becomes her own mother.

Anyway, I'll leave it there before I give too much away.

The creepiness of the supporting characters is perfectly handled. They're not spooky in that John Carradine "You're all doomed" way, it's more subtle with little gestures, glances and demeanour that makes you shiver.

Beautifully shot by cinematographer Mario Masini with bright, hyper-real colours (I've no idea what they shot on but it's got that lovely Eastman or Technicolor feel). I wouldn't be surprised if Argento watched this film before making Suspiria as it's a real kaleidoscope of colours.

The score is suitably menacing with discordant violins and some well judged silences. There is some nice use of diegetic sound during a scene in a shop.

There is no black gloved killer in The Perfume of the Lady in Black, but it is definitely gialli of the highest order and I loved every minute of it.

"Life, what is it but a dream?"

Letterboxd Review

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The DPP Section 3 Buying Guide

I've added a new Buying Guide for the titles on the DPP Section 3 list. The page is a little on the large size and I did consider breaking it down into smaller chunks, but I think I'd rather wait a little while and have everything on the one page rather than flipping back and forwards between tabs.

You'll find a link to the Buying Guides in the "Pages" section in the right-hand column and I've also included a link in this post that goes directly to the DPP Section 3 list.

I hope you find it useful and if you spot any errors or know of better releases, please let me know.

Buying Guide: The DPP 33

Monday, 2 November 2015

DVD & Blu-Ray Buying Guides

I've just added the first in a series of DVD & Blu-Ray Buying Guides. These guides should help take the hassle out of sorting through the various releases for a film. At present there are guides for the DPP Video Nasty list, which I've separated into two lists: The DPP 39, for the prosecuted films, and The DPP 33 for the non-prosecuted films.

In future I hope to add guides for the DPP Section 3 list, individual directors (Argento, Bava, Fulci spring to mind) and genres (Gialli, Poliziotteschi).

You'll find a link in the "Pages" section in the right-hand column and I've also included a couple of links in this post.

I hope you find them useful and if you spot any errors or know of better releases, please let me know.

Buying Guide: The DPP 39

Buying Guide: The DPP 33

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Milano Calibro 9 (1972)

This review is for the Arrow Video Blu-Ray with the Italian soundtrack and English subtitles.

A simple story of a missing $300,000 which the local mob, headed by il Americano, assumes has hidden by Ugo. Recently released from prison, Ugo must either find the money and clear his name with the Americano or die. As if that's not enough, Ugo has to deal with the local Milano fuzz.

Milano Calibro 9 is an Italian crime thriller from '72 with a super cool title (damn those Italians and their titles!) and it is not your average Poliziotteschi - this film adds a dash of socialism to the mix of guns, money and girls.

Gastone Moschin is terrific as the morose Ugo. While everything around him is exploding he somehow manages to be the calm in the eye of the storm. Even when getting slapped around you know that there will be payback, even if you're not entirely sure how or when. Of course we need a hothead to play against taciturn Ugo and that is ably supplied by Mario Adorf's Rocco. A veritable whirlwind of energy, wisecracks, gurning and one of the dirtiest laughs I've heard on screen. He reminded me of a cross between George Cole's Flash Harry from the St. Trinians films and Pops from the League of Gentlemen - a scenery chewing spiv! Then we have il Americano, played by guess who? Only fucking Hart to Hart's Lionel Stander!

So where does the socialism come from? The police! We have the usual incompetent police force, but this time it's not their stupidity that stops them from solving the crime, it's their inability to work together without bickering over politics. We have one detective who believes in the capitalist economy and the other who wants prison reform and the re-distribution of wealth. This is also mirrored with the differences between il Americano (the capitalist) and Ugo (the socialist).

Another interesting theme is the way the film juxtaposes the traditional against the modern, with Ugo's old boss Don Vincenzo, now living in a crumbling tenement with his ageing enforcer Chino, against il Americano's brash young thugs. The director could also be showing us the effect of American influences on Italian society (the old traditional Don in poor health, blind and with no influence versus il Americano).

To balance the political message we have the usual Poliziotteschi action sequences including the novel use of dynamite to get rid of some bodies. There are black Mercedes', shoot-outs, explosions, punch ups and go-go dancing. Even J&B Whisky makes makes several, hilariously obvious, appearances.

Some favourite moments: Rocco silencing his punch by pushing a pillow against someone's face; the aforementioned dynamite scene; the swimming pool shot towards the end looking remarkably like the scene from Magnum Force (even though that film came out a year later); the way Chino doesn't throw his pistol away (a la Hollywood) when it's empty.

Possibly my favourite scene though is when Chino fights Rocco and his hoods. Rocco finds out that it is Chino (and by implication Don Vincenzo) he is fighting and even though Chino is obviously washed-up, Rocco still gives back the money he stole from Ugo and asks permission to leave the apartment. Money and influence comes and goes; reputation is everything in Milano Calibro 9.

The film is economically shot and very nicely paced. The performances are excellent all round and the soundtrack is full of strings, heavy bass, flaming guitars and flutes. Groovy, with a heavy Euro-funk vibe that manages to not come over like a continental Starsky & Hutch. The Arrow Blu-Ray is excellent with no noticeable DNR and a nice subtle grain.

Whichever way you look at it Milano Calibro 9 is a fine film with hidden depths.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Harvest Lake - Pre-release of Scott Schrimer's new film available for order

A pre-release of Scott Schirmer's latest film, Harvest Lake is available to order now. It's a very limited run of 250 copies that that can be signed by the director and producer. Here's the specs:
  • The uncut version of Harvest Lake on a glass-mastered, region-free blu-ray disc (not a BD-r) in 1080-p high definition
  • EXCLUSIVE Artwork: Cover wraparound featuring teaser poster art by Erik Wilson, hand-numbered (1 through 250) on the back
  • EXCLUSIVE Timing: Ships in January, at least two months ahead of our festival premiere and any other release of the movie
  • EXCLUSIVE Bonuses: 2nd disc (DVD-r) featuring The Day
  • Joe Left short film by Scott Schirmer, Switch short film by Brian K. Williams, and a one-hour round table discussion about horror and indie filmmaking with Schirmer, Williams, and FX artist Arthur Cullipher
  • EXCLUSIVE Recognition: Your name will be included in the ‘Special Thanks’ section of the film’s end credits and on IMDb!
  • Audio commentaries with the cast and crew
  • Behind-the-scenes featurette
  • Option to have the front cover autographed by Scott and Brian
  • 2 x 6″ full-color vinyl bumper sticker “I Got Wet at Harvest Lake”
Order the Blu-Ray here

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Avengers: Age of Ultron is Joss Whedon's response to the mass carnage of Zack Snyder's Man of Steel.

Where Snyder treats collateral damage as a necessary inconvenience (a la Michael Bay and American foreign policy), Whedon goes to great lengths to save innocents, even if it means risking the lives of his heroes, and surely that is what being a hero is all about. The main question that Age of Ultron asks is whether the sacrifice of a few to save the many can ever be justified? Take, for example, a city under siege; the besieging army promise to stop the attack and in the process save many thousands of lives if the inhabitants deliver to them a single child, in the knowledge that he will be killed. How much is their lives worth? One child, two, one hundred? In other words, if we are prepared to sacrifice a single life to save many then we may as well kill a hundred.

The film is well paced with a much needed quiet 2nd act and a frenetic finale that builds the action over several set pieces rather than rely on the multiple endings so prevalent in action films (yes, Bay and Snyder, I can see you both giggling at the back. See me after class!).

It's nice to see Black Widow and Hawkeye take centre stage and Whedon ground the film with a pair of non-radioactive, superpower-less mortals. Empathy is important in a film and this is always going to be a problem in a superhero movie, but in Age of Ultron we have Black Widow and Hawkeye to act as our empathetic surrogates; we are Hawkeye and Black Widow and they do us proud.

James Spader hams it up just the right amount and seemingly channels Adam West for his portrayal of Ultron. The rest of the cast continue as normal but with a little more depth and humanity than previous films, with Thor questioning his godhood and a growing relationship forming between Romanoff (Black Widow) and Banner (Hulk).

Action-packed and funny in just the right places, Age of Ultron is a superhero film that for once doesn't focus on super-powers and instead on love, compassion and sacrifice. A very human superhero film indeed.

Letterboxd Review

John Wick (2014)

I'd heard many great things about John Wick and how it was a much needed shot in the arm of the action genre. Well, I waited and waited and waited for the bloody UK Blu-Ray to come out and hoped that it would be worth it. I'm glad to say that it was good... very good indeed.

Canoe Reaves plays ex-hitman John Wick. A man whose violence is tempered by the dog that his recently deceased wife left him. Let's just hope that nothing bad happens to the dog, eh? Enter the villainous Alfie Allen and let the blood, guns and Canoe's brooding stoicism loose!

At times reminiscent of a John Woo film, the film is beautifully shot and lit with an almost minimalist feel to it, especially during the first half where even the soundtrack is muted and abstract. Then slowly it builds into a frenzy of high-octane guns, fists and pounding techno-beats (supplied by Tyler Bates). Canoe does what he does best and stays quiet for most of the film and instead looks damn cool in a sharp three-piece and tie carrying a suitcase full o' guns. Michael Nyqvist plays a great, if clichéd, eastern-european villan and Alfie Allen is perfect as the son that we would dearly love kick in the balls. The stand-out though has to be the wonderful Ian McShane in a cameo as Canoe's fixer.

John Wick combines the flowing Kung Fu of The Matrix, the brutal close-up fighting of the Bourne films, the balletic gun-play of Hard Boiled, and the force of nature that is Lee Marvin's Walker in Point Blank.

If there's one con it's the over reliance on that CGI blood-spray effect. Can we please go back to blood-packs and squibs!

Jolly good show Canoe!

Letterboxd Review

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Blow Out (1981)

A sound-recordist accidentally captures the killing of a US presidential candidate on tape.

I haven't seen Blow Out since the 80's and bought Arrow's release to pack out an order so that I got free shipping. I really couldn't remember much about it and wasn't expecting much from a re-watch. Well, that'll teach me to be presumptuous!

Blow Up is De Palma's ode to giallo and specifically the films of Italian maestro of the macabre Dario Argento. De Palma's trademark style (over substance according to some) fits hand-in-glove with giallo. We have De Palma's usual red and blue neon reflected off of rain covered streets, but this time they have a distinctly Argento feel to them. Then there's the killer POV shot, the dreamlike night-time scene with an owl and a frog, the non-police investigator (a sound recordist), the use of architecture and glass, several moronic police officers who will not listen to the investigator, the gloved killer, even J&B Whisky makes an appearance. Even the relationship between sex and death is covered with the orgasmic killing at the end of the film.

But, I hear you say, where the knife? The knife rather neatly bookends the movie in the film-within-a-film. This allows De Palma to include one of the most notable giallo devices without being tied down to a well worn cliché - remember this is post-Halloween 1981.

There are a couple of issues. Firstly a couple of the sequences are overly long and badly needed trimming; this would have tightened up the whole pace of the film. For example, the Nancy Allen and Dennis Franz near-rape scene could have done with several minutes being sliced out. Secondly, some of the music choices were pretty bad. Not Last House on the Left bad, but poor none the less.

Nancy Allen is wonderful as the young and naive honey-trap, Travolta capitalises on his good looks without coming over as smug and handles his role well, and John Lithgow plays weird and deadly so well!

And that end! Travolta's character using a woman's dying scream in the slasher film-within-a-film really is something Argento would have come up with.

Good stuff!

Letterboxd Review

The Usual Suspects (1995)

WARNING: The following review will contain a major spoiler for the few fools left that have not seen The Usual Suspects.

A serendipitous evening of film! I first re-watch The Usual Suspects (a homage to film-noir) and then decide to watch Blow Out (a homage to giallo) without meaning to place them together at all. Spooky!

For some reason The Usual Suspects didn't stand out as film-noir the first time I watched it, but on this viewing it hit me like a lead-filled sap to the back of the neck. The shadows contrasting with occasional bright sunshine, a convoluted plot, revenge, wonderful camera angles (downward, upward and over shoulder), an edit to a downward shot of a cup of coffee, deep focus shots, the story told in flashbacks with a voice-over by an unreliable narrator. There was only one thing missing... a femme fatale.

Here comes the spoiler... are we ready?... last chance... Verbal Kint is the femme fatale; he starts off as fragile, vulnerable but ends up duplicitous and devious. Much like Barbara Stanwyck's character in Double Indemnity, Kint manipulates situations and people until he gets what he wants. And the big reveal? Just one of the most iconic shots in modern cinema.

The performances are excellent with Spacey being the obvious stand-out, but not forgetting Benicio del Toro's comedic turn as Fenster. Stephen Baldwin is Stephen Baldwin again.

The Usual Suspects has great screenplay and photography by Christopher McQuarrie and Newton Thomas Sigel, respectively, but what the hell happened to Bryan Singer's career after such a promising start?

Unlike the "twist-in-the-tail" movies by M. Night Shyamalan, The Usual Suspects is a film that doesn't rely on the single twist at the end to supply satisfaction, and it's worth watching several times to try and pick out the clues that lead to the lame man walking.

Letterboxd Review

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Records Collecting Dust (2015)

A cool little documentary that I've been waiting to be released for ages. Well they're offering it for free download this weekend (2015-09-05 to 2015-09-06).

The doc's digs through the record collections of some of the greats of punk, hardcore and metal and asks about the sounds they grew up listening to, the records that influenced them and the stores they bought them in. For just under an hour we get to listen to some musical heroes of mine including:

  • Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys)
  • Keith Morris (Black Flag/Circle Jerks/OFF!)
  • Clifford Dinsmore (Bl'ast)
  • Nick Oliveri (Kyuss/Queens of the Stone Age)
  • Mike Watt (Minutemen)
  • Justin Pearson (The Locust)
  • Greg Anderson (sunn o))))
  • Matt Pike (Sleep)
  • Chuck Dukowski (Black Flag/Würm)
  • Mike Neider (Bl'ast)
  • Kira Roessler (Black Flag)

There are a couple of issues though. The first is that, due to copyright and expense, we don't get to hear any of the records chosen. Secondly, the doc contains three promo clips of artists featured in the film. There doesn't seem to be any reason for this apart from shameless self-promotion, and leading the pack is, rather obviously, Jello Biafra with a clip of his latest band that lasts 2:35. Considering his sound-bite contributions total 3:53 in a film of just 53 minutes (excluding title and credits) I can't help come to the conclusion that Jello is still a bit of a dick. Personally I would have preferred it of they'd left him out no matter how much of a DK fan I am.

The doc is interesting, doesn't outstay its welcome and it's always a treat to listen to Keith Morris and Mike Watt - I could quite happily hear them waffle on all day.

The whole film reminded me of a store that I used to buy from when I was a kid. There was a crazy golf course beside a beach that, for some odd reason, had an attached record shop. The floor was always covered in sand, the record sleeves had a coating of sea-salt and my mate's brother (who once threw a dart into my forehead) lived out the back in a shed. Ah, those were the days.

Anyway, it's a cool documentary which should have had some cool music in it and it features a dickhead. Oh, and my god, Chuck Dukowski looks old!

To fit in with the doc, here's my first music purchases:

First music ever bought: Glen Campbell's Greatest Hits on tape, probably sometime in '77. It was the only thing I could afford locally and I'd never even heard of him before. I still love Wichita Lineman. That year my gran also bought me a David Soul cassette because I liked Starsky & Hutch! Before this I did what every kid did - taped Top of the Pops on a portable cassette recorder.

First LP: Star Wars by The Sonic All-Stars, in '78. Again, all I could afford. Bought from Woolworths.

First 7" singles: The Sex Pistols - The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle / Blondie - Union City Blue. Both with my birthday money in '79. These were the records that, for me, really started it all, even though the Sex Pistols' single is terrible and most people would never even consider it a true Pistols record.

Letterboxd Review

Monday, 31 August 2015

The World's Fastest Indian (2005)

A magical film set in the 1950s about an old Kiwi with heart issues, determined to break the land-speed record for sub-1000cc motorbikes on Bonneville Salt Flats on a home-brewed bike, based on a old 1920 Indian Scout (originally designed to run at a max of 54mph).

Burt Munro is simple man, bemused by the complexity and bureaucracy of life, but with a supreme belief in himself, his bike and humanity. Burt makes his own piston-heads with reforged Chevy parts and his own slicks with a carving knife. Burt starts his bike with a jump-cable connected to his boot and by covering the air-intake with the palm of his hand. Burt is really, really funny. Burt is everyone's grandpa rolled into one big loveable lump. Burt is fucking awesome!

I'm not a huge fan of Anthony Hopkins, although I adore his performance in Remains of the Day, but his Burt is so perfectly and beautifully constructed that I believe every single word that comes out of his mouth and, more to the point, believe he can break any record he wants to. If Burt said he was going to the moon, I'd ask if I could pack a lunch for him. Sure, his accent is more mummerset than antipodean but I'll forgive that.

The film is as much about Burt's effect on the people he meets as much as the journey and the record attempt itself. Everyone seems changed for the better after meeting this genial old man and this, in my opinion at least, makes The World's Fastest Indian the greatest "feel-good" film ever produced.

Then there's the record attempt itself - a totally gripping finish that'll have you on the edge of your seat shouting "Woo Hoo!".

A lovely film about belief, determination and spirit. Do yourself a favour and watch The World's Fastest Indian... oh, and buy yourself a fucking shed!

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Hitch-Hike (1977)

Superficially Hitch-Hike is the story of an arguing couple (Franco Nero and Corinne Cléry) who pick up a hitch-hiker (David Hess) who turns out to be a psychopath with two-million dollars in his suitcase. Rather more interestingly, I think it can also be read as the story of a woman in an abusive relationship seeking empowerment though a crucible of fear and terror and becoming a Nietzschean superwoman (her name is Eve - the proto-woman). Ultimately this reading fails in the last 5 minutes, but that doesn't stop the change in her character throughout the rest of the film. Interestingly the director, Pasquale Festa Campanile, was normally a screenwriter who was previously nominated for an Academy Award, so I don't think this sort of sub-text is unwarranted.

Rather than your average bloody and violent poliziotteschi /exploitation film, Hitch-Hike comes over as more of a character study with exploitation elements. Each of the three main characters are well rounded and essential to the story, with the husband (Nero) being an unsuccessful journalist who relies on his wife's inheritance to survive and treats her as a possession to be protected. The hiker (Hess) is a man used to taking what he wants and treats the woman as a trophy to be won. Hess is honest in his brutality whereas Nero is the typical apologetic wife-beater. The wife (Cléry) slowly gains control over her life and understands that she is not defined by men.

Hitch-Hike is a film in the grand-tradition of "Lonely Road" films such as The Hitcher, Spoorloos (The Vanishing) and Duel where the road and the journey is as important as the characters and propels the plot. This has prompted me to build a list of similar films which I'll add to the review when complete. The photography by Franco Di Giacomo and Giuseppe Ruzzolini is stunning and really captures the wide open spaces with only a few lapses in focus. The cast is great with both Hess and Nero (against type) playing nasty bastards perfectly and Cléry bringing great strength and subtlety to her character. The soundtrack is fantastic with Ennio Morricone excelling himself with a dirty desert influenced score that fits the film like a glove.

There is one particular moment during the film that I would have assumed that the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) would have trouble with passing uncut and that's the pivotal rape scene. Whilst there are various rapes throughout the film this particular scene, if taken out of context, has Cléry's character seemingly enjoy being raped. As the BBFC have passed the film uncut (2015), I think they agree that Cléry does not submit to the rape or actually enjoy it. She instead takes control and says, "this is my body, and I am allowing you to have sex with me". This nullifies the rape, removing control from Hess and taking it for herself. Importantly during this scene, she continually looks at her husband, displaying that he too does not own her. It's an interesting, potentially inflammatory scene and I would be interested to hear what others think.

If there is a fault, I would say the last five minutes, as alluded to above, negate a lot of the preceding character building. Yes, it's a perfect exploitation ending, but it could have been so much better.

I've hitched a fair bit in my life and also offered lifts to hikers and I know that there's always that first few seconds when you get in the car (or vice-versa) where you wonder if the person opposite you is be a nutter. In fact I've only ever had one experience even remotely like that when I once gave a lift to an armed robber going to see his parole officer, and he turned out to be quite a lovely bloke.

Hitch-Hike is a great exploitation film-cum-character study that deserves to be on your watch-list.

Letterboxd Review

That's Entertainment (1974)

I really like the That's Entertainment series because I love musical numbers but have trouble watching an entire musical movie which I, with a few exceptions, find boring beyond belief.

Introduced by some proper, full-on stars including Frank Sinatra, Liz Taylor, Jimmy Stewart and Bing Crosby, this film celebrates MGM musicals and the studio system that produced them. A system where an actor signed a long-term contract that tied them to a particular studio which expected most performers to be able sing and dance as well as act. These musicals contained so many actors, extras and huge elaborate sets, they could only have ever been made within the studio system. This system may have had many faults but at least we have the films to make up for them.

From huge and extravagantly choreographed numbers, through Ester Williams' synchronised water performances to the intimate Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers duets, That's Entertainment has it all and contains clips of the wonderful Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Bing CrosbyCyd Charisse, Leslie Caron, and many, many others.

Highlights include Fred Astaire dancing with a hat-stand, a huge MGM dinner with the largest number of movie stars you'll ever see in one shot, Frank and Bing performing Cole Porter's 'Well, Did You Evah!' from High Society, Danny Kaye's comedic 'Make 'em Laugh' routine, the entire Judy Garland sequence, and Gene Kelly... just doing what Gene Kelly does best.

If there is one down point, it's the clip from Gigi, the plot of which always makes me feel uncomfortable and the song 'Thank Heaven for Little Girls' even more so.

Even if you don't enjoy musicals I recommend that you give That's Entertainment a go. I guarantee it'll put a smile on your face.

Funny fact: apparently Fred Astaire's MGM screen test noted that he: "Can't sing. Can't act. Balding. Can dance a little".

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

At the moment Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is on TV. I've seen it before and, therefore know how crap it is. Therefore I'm watching Once Upon a Time on my laptop, whilst, out if the corner of my eye, I see Shia Labeouf try and play Marlon Brando for the Tweens who have no idea who Brando was. Shia is not Brando. Actually Spielberg gets it completely wrong; Brando's character in The Wild One wasn't even the bad-ass, that would be Lee Marvin in his stripped jumper. Marvin would grill and eat Labeouf for breakfast. I fucking hate this film and I really fucking hate Mr. "Paper Bag" Labeouf.

I've just turned the radio on and switched the TV off to get rid of his smug little face. I really, really hope Labeouf isn't famous any more and Spielberg, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Back to Once Upon a Time.

Letterboxd Review

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

The New Flesh: 21st Century Horror Films A-Z, Volume 1 (2015)

Author: Stuart Willis
Size: 450 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (27 Mar. 2015)
ISBN-10: 1511490810
ISBN-13: 978-1511490818
Buy: Amazon

I've finally finished reading The New Flesh and I thoroughly loved it. There are few reference guides that take the time to review obscure underground horror films and Stuart spends a large chunk of the volume doing precisely that. Yes, it is self-published but please don't let that put you off. In fact that's a good thing; I can guarantee that a "proper" publisher would have insisted that the majority of the book be taken up with reviews of the more mainstream, franchise films that have flooded the horror market this century, just to sell more copies.

The reviews are personal, but not overly opinionated, funny and knowledgeable. You can tell that Stuart loves horror films, he really knows his stuff and wants to share that passion with others. The films are listed in alphabetic order which removes the need for an index. Also, the review for each film is listed under it's English title, although a pointer is also given to the correct review for all foreign language titles.

If I have one issue with the book it is that a small section on availability for each film would have been really useful. As you know, tracking down horror films on DVD is a bit of a quagmire and it's even worse for independent films, with multiple releases, cuts, publishers, formats, covers! A small "The best versions currently available" box would have been nice. Mind you, I would imagine this information going rapidly out of date. Or maybe an appendix listing publisher's websites - that would work.

Apparently the second volume will deal even more with underground horror which is great! I'll be the first in line when it's published. Good stuff Stuart!

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Jupiter Ascending (2014)

Lost space queen gets rescued over and over again.

Okay, Jupiter Ascending is not hard sci-fi, in fact it's barely space opera. The science is never explained and in the words of Arthur C. Clarke; "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". What it is, is a mish-mash of myth and fairy tale, merging Greek, Roman, Norse and Hindu mythology to come up with a bizarre galaxy full of lizard men and space vampires. In one scene we even leave this established but messy and colourful background to enter Terry Gilliam's grey steampunk Brazil setting full of pipes and bureaucracy (with a cameo by Gilliam himself). What the fuck is going on here? World-building by someone with ADHD.

The plot is just as chaotic with elements of Flash Gordon, The Matrix, Barbarella, Carmilla/Elizabeth Bathory and Jason and the Argonauts. We can even mix in some Hitchcock as our heroine's name is Jupiter Jones; the same name as the leader of Hitch's Three Investigators books, which I loved as a child. It seems that Jupiter Ascending is the Wachowski's Kill Bill! Every time I think that the Wachowskis are going to say something really important about class, gender or the patriarchy, it just ends up with another scene of Mila Kunis getting rescued yet again. Come on Lana, what the fuck were you thinking! Is this the same woman that gave us the wonderful Sense8? Oh, and what was with that ending?

So the world-building is a mess, the plot is a mess, what about the characters? Channing Tatum is an odd duck. He looks so utterly blank but every film I see him in he seems to shine somehow. Like I said, odd; I like him. His satyr/fawn-like character is the usual "get out of jail free" card for the resident damsel in distress Mila Kunis, whose character sets feminism back a good 30 years by refusing to do anything proactive, giving into the baddies under the slightest pressure and needing to be rescued over and over and over again. Anyway, she's "The One" or the Queen... I forget which. Eddie Redmayne plays a cookie-cutter Machiavellian Ming the Merciless type character - he really only needed a long droopy moustache to fondle and he'd have been perfect. Sean Bean is okay.

It's all big, colourful, messy and silly but the limp portrayal of the female characters let the entire film down in my opinion.

"You don't treat your cousin like chicken!"

"Gordon's alive!"

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

The Bad Man - Scott Schirmer's new film in crowdfunding stage!

Scott Schirmer's new film The Bad Man is in crowd-funding stage at Kickstarter. 1000 signed DVD's on offer plus other goodies. Scott's films are always a treat (he directed .found and produced Headless) so help him out and get something nice in return.

Click here for The Bad Man Kickstarter page.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Demon Resurrection (2009)

A young ex-cult member gives birth to a demon, whilst all around her zombies threaten the lives of her friends.

Demon Resurrection was shot on digital but has a real SOV feel to it. Maybe it's down to the 4:3 aspect ratio, but you could really imagine this being shot in the 80's. Where a lot of low-budget underground horror films take the easy route of cheesiness to counter any claims that the film is silly, Demon Resurrection has the balls to take itself seriously. There are no crappy jokes, no over-the-top performances, no gross-out scenes for the sake of it. Instead writer/director William Hopkins takes several elements from other films to create a decent and believable plot, builds atmosphere, and gives us a nice pay-off at the end. This is a film that wears it's influences on it's sleeve, from the one building location of Night of the Living Dead, the impregnation and subsequent birth of Rosemary's Baby, to the feel of Hammer's "Witchcraft" films The Devil Rides Out and To the Devil a Daughter. The influences don't stop there, there's also the cosmic horror of Lovecraft and even a Cthulhu-like beast makes an appearance, admittedly in book form, but it all adds depth.

Sure the film looks amateur but the director has a real feel for film making and there are some really nice shot choices. Occasionally you can tell that he was limited by lenses when he has trouble framing several subjects in an interior shot, but really, who gives a shit. The editing is nice as well, I have no idea if more than one camera was used but it really feels like there were several just like in a more expensively shot movie. The performances are well above the standard of usual low-budget films and no-one stands out as being particularly crappy. The sound can get a little muffled and fuzzy in places but otherwise it's nice and clean. The soundtrack is subtle, unobtrusive and adds to the creepy enclosed atmosphere. The video effects were minimal and well used; pretty much all the special effects were practical with CGI being limited to a green fuzz that surrounds the zombies and a couple of other scenes.

On to the blood and guts. The zombie creatures were really quite good. Sure you can tell they were wearing rubber masks and but they had a sort of endearing Rawhead Rex feel to them. I loved them! The blood was standard corn syrup and the guts were either good latex or pig innards. We've got some typical disembowelling (a windowpane evisceration was a stand-out), a broken zombie arm piercing a neck, the demon baby birthing scene (reminiscent of Alien), some boob chewing, and something you don't see in many films... someone pissing their pants. There are a couple of naked scenes but these are handled well and don't come over as softcore porn shoehorned in to sell DVDs.

Demon Resurrection has a good plot, decent effects, tension, jeopardy, and a nice twist at the end. Overall, really good fun for SOV junkies but glossy Platinum Dunes multiplex horror fans should stay clear.

You can buy it straight from the director here

Letterboxd Review

Sunday, 9 August 2015

My Bloody Valentine (1981)

Another of those films that for some reason escaped my attention back in the 80's. My Bloody Valentine has been sat on my shelf for a year or so and I thought it high-time I gave it a watch; but then I did something stupid. You know those DVD's and Blu-Rays that have different versions and that sometimes it's quite hard to tell which version is highlighted? Hmm, I thought I started the uncut, restored version and instead watched the nine minute shorter, theatrical release. What a dick! What to do? I ended up watching the uncut version on fast-forward afterwards and what a difference it made! While the theatrical cut was a fine little bloodless slasher that you could play for your Granny, the full length version added a a full star and a half to bring it up to five stars. On with the review...

A psychotic miner starts killing the citizens of a small Canadian town on Valentine's Day.

I live in a town surrounded by mines. In fact we had to have test holes drilled beneath our house to check for adits and shafts when we bought the place. Never known of a Cornish serial killing miner though. We do have a bloke that gets arrested regularly for masturbating in piles of cow shit though. Not sure if it's a Valentines Day only hobby but I very much doubt it.

The killer's mining gear is undeniably scary and his heavy breathing though the gas mask adds to the spookiness. There is a nice turn on the obligatory shower scene with a bunch of naked male miners. The intro  is funny and light-hearted start and introduces a likeable, though pretty moronic, bunch of would be corpses. There's bonus point for a doom-saying bartender introduces a great little flashback sequence showing the origin of the town's Valentines curse.

For once in a slasher movie the kills aren't punishment for sexual transgressions and substance abuse. This time we get an equal-opportunities killer who doesn't respect gender or age. The small town feel is captured brilliantly with everyone knowing each other and great character development with little back-stories and quips between people that hint at a real history.

The final act really picks up the pace and is truly filled with tension, blood and plot twists that keep you guessing until the killer's final unveiling.

What should be an unoriginal slasher flick ends up witty, clever and full of well spaced, gruesome kills (the eye-popping pickaxe scene being my personal favourite). Sure the performances, as in most slashers, range from adequate to poor but My Bloody Valentine is an excellent and original Canadian slasher film finally restored in all its bloody glory!

More fun than you can shake a pick at.

A rather large Margarita and several glasses of wine fuelled this review!

Letterboxd Review