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.