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

'71 (2014)

It's 1971, the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland and a young soldier (Jack O'Connell) is left behind after his platoon come under attack while supporting a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) raid on a house near the Falls Road in Belfast.

What starts off as a simple tale of a soldier finding his way back to base, slowly turns into a critique of the RUC's and, more importantly, the Military Reaction Force's (MRF) tactics during a period when Belfast was a Molotov cocktail just waiting for a match. In fact O'Connell's character can almost be thought of as a McGuffin, driving the story forward but having little actual importance, he could be any soldier, an "Everysoldier". What is important is what happens around him; the murders, violence, betrayals, alliances, apathy, anger. That's not to say that O'Connell sleepwalks through the role though. His performance is subtle and ever-changing, showing innocence, naivety, sadness, bewilderment and a genuine concern for the people of Belfast.

Another large part of the film is dedicated to the growth of the, then in their infancy, Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) and their conflict with the old guard of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Sometimes this comes over as a little too black & white and straightforward with the PIRA being portrayed as young firebrands using any means necessary to remove the British from Irish soil and the traditional values of the soldiers of the IRA.

There are some truly shocking moments that will make even the most hardened war film viewers gasp. Filmed in Sheffield and Blackburn, the film makers make a great job of portraying an almost Beirut-like, war-torn Belfast full of boarded-up houses, burning cars, and warren-like alleys.

A couple of pieces of dialogue sum up the film pretty well:

  • When the wee kid asks O'Connell "You're not Catholic with a name like that. Are you protestant then?" he replies "Dunno".
  • Then later a conversation between O'Connell and a young woman: "Derby and Nottingham don't really get on", "Oh, why's that?", "Don't really know".

Says it all really.

To give you an idea of the number of deaths during this period, during the years 2003 to 2011, 179 British soldiers died in Iraq. In years 1971 to 1978, 544 British soldiers died in Ireland/Northern Ireland. This doesn't even take into account civilian deaths (1118). I wonder if we've forgotten about this terrible period in our country's history far too quickly.

Anyway, here's some homework for you:

And for all you old punks out there, here's some Angelic Upstarts:

Last night another soldier, last night another child
No one seems to worry, no one sees his mother cry

Can you see that smart, clean soldier,
Standing straight and oh so proud
He wants to fight for Queen and country
He wants to make his family proud

A job with the future, his way to get out of it
It's his sense of romance, it never ends that way
Last night another soldier, last night another child
No one seems to worry, no one sees his mother cry

They're just facts and figures on your TV screen
Another child and another soldier, is peace just a dream

In the country strange and foreign all the people resent him
He can't cope with his problems, all the fears and hatred

Now he wish he never went he wish he never thought of it
It's not the same as fighting armies looking for the terrorists

They're just facts and figures...

Can you hear the mocking laughter from the ones that gain by it
They're not in line for the bullets, they're the ones who started it

They're just facts and figures...

Last night another soldier, last night another child
Just a number in the papers, another one of the innocent

They're just facts and figures..

Letterboxd Review

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Two American college kids, hiking around Europe, are attacked on the Yorkshire Moors leaving one dead and the other a werewolf filled with guilt over his friend's death.

With An American Werewolf in LondonJohn Landis proved that it is possible to make a mainstream horror comedy without it coming off as either a camp farce or an Abbot & Costello slapstick shit-fest.

David Naughton as David (the Werewolf) and Griffin Dunne as his friend Jack (the Zombie) work perfectly as the the two Americans, spitting one-liners but without coming off as irritating and brash. The deepening relationship between Naughton and Jenny Agutter is tender and believable. Naughton's descent into lycanthropy is gradual with some great dream sequences preceding the justly famous transformation scene; one in particular figuring David unable to save his family from a pack of Nazi monsters, echoing his guilt over running away from his friend while he was being attacked by the original werewolf. Then there's the supporting cast of notable British actors including Rik Mayall, Brian "Leon Arras the Man From Paris" Glover, Alan Ford and David Schofield. The dialogue is beautifully natural (the hike through the moors, Agutter and the children in the hospital) and the soundtrack, containing "moon" titled classics, is perfect.

I've watched An American Werewolf in London so many times that this time I thought I'd try something a little different and see if the film can be viewed as a portrayal of a man's grief and guilt over a friends death causing a breakdown, with all the lycanthropy being imagined. Well, sort of, apart from the final scene most reactions to David could have been caused by seeing a naked man covered in blood. Ultimately the experiment failed but it was fun though.

Anyway, here's some other little moments that stood out:
  • Brian Glover and David Schofield delivering beautifully timed dialogue in the Slaughtered Lamb scenes.
  • Frank Oz's Mr. Collins talking like Fozzie Bear.
  • The Muppet Show clip where Miss Piggy says "you call that violence art?".
  • The decomposition of David's friend Jack.
  • David trying to watch the, at the time, very limited British TV with the accurate News of the World advert.
  • The porn film.
  • The underground chase scene.
Above all, even the transformation, the one thing that stands out for me is the way that Landis captures Britishness. I don't think I've ever seen us portrayed as accurately by an American as in An American Werewolf in London.

A perfect balance of horror, comedy, gore and tenderness.

"Beware the moon!"

Letterboxd Review