Friday, 30 October 2015

Lady in White
Dir: Frank LaLoggia
Frank LaLoggia's creepy 1988 classic is based on the global Lady in White legend. Many different countries and cultures tell a similar tale of a ghostly female figure who wonders certain areas at night. The ladies in white are usually said to be ghosts of ladies who have lost someone or who have been betrayed in some way. LaLoggia's particular Lady in white is loosely based on the legend of a ghost who is said to roam Durand-eastman Park in Rochester, New York, close to where the film was shot. The film is the perfect visualization of a scary story you'd tell each other on sleepovers or around a camp fire. It's classed as a kids film but it scared me to pieces the first time I saw it as a child and it still has the same effect on me now as an adult. There is a wonderful fantasy element about the film too, it's almost dreamlike, albeit a bad dream, an eerily familiar and insidious bad dream at that. LaLoggia has tapped into a child's nightmare. I love the Nightmare on Elm Street series as much as anyone but I didn't have bad dreams about characters like Freddy Kruger, I had bad dreams about Ghosts and people watching me as I slept. The the scariest element of the film is probably the idea of getting locked in school overnight, surely the worst possible situation for any child. When Lukas Haas' character Frankie (still the best role of his career) tries to convince his family of what he's seen, you can't help but scream at the screen with him, such is the film's flawless ability to embroil and involve the viewer. It's a childhood favorite of mine that I think still holds up today. It should be watched with the lights off, under a blanket, with hot chocolate, late on Christmas Eve.

Four Flies on Grey Velvet
Dir: Dario Argento
The conclusion to Dario Argento's chilling Animal trilogy is good but doesn't come close to the greatness of The Bird With the Crystal Plumage or Cat o' Nine Tails. I liked it but the lack of structure is a little obvious and is a bit of a problem. I watched the recently released uncut version and in the extras and assistant director and co-writer Luigi Cozzi explains that there wasn't much thought involved, it's basically a bunch of scenes with some cool deaths strung together. A lot of it is tribute to films and literature both men admired at the time, the dialogue between the main character and the private detective was stolen, albeit in admiration, from another film, word for word. You couldn't get away with that kind of thing these days but then there is a lot you couldn't do before that Four Flies on Grey Velvet did. However, what the film lacks in structure and in uninteresting performance, the film makes up for in its striking visuals. The slow motion bullet scene and the slow motion car crash were both firsts and look as good today as they did then. A great example of Giallo, thankfully it wasn't the last as was initially intended and as uninteresting as Michael Brandon's performance was, at least they didn't cast Ringo Starr as was first planned. This is about as cult as it gets, one for the Giallo/Argento hardcore and an obvious inspiration for many a horror/thriller.
Captain America IIDeath Too Soon
Dir: Ivan Nagy
Captain America IIDeath Too Soon is the follow up to the original made for TV Captain America, released earlier the same year. It is ever so slightly better than the first, mainly due to the fact it doesn't get bogged down with the origin story. Cap gets straight to it and before you know it he's saving old ladies handbags from nasty street hoodlums and doing tricks on his fancy little motorbike. He's also got a high calibre bad guy this time round, played by the most villainous of villeins, Mr Christopher Lee. Unfortunately, the story is rubbish. Death too Soon is an intriguing and catchy title, but when it is revealed that it refers to an evil plan by the bad guy to inflict old age on people via skywriting airplanes it kind of takes the edge off any excitement you may have had. There is a pretty cool scene where Cap's motorbike goes off the edge of a dam but it's pretty void of highlights. However, if this had been on TV on a Saturday night in the mid 80s I would have been all over it. Reb Brown is incredibly likable, it's not really the Captain America of the comics but it's great if you're an Evel Knievel fan you'll probably like it better.
Dir: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Alejandro González Iñárritu is an amazing director, his visuals being some of the greatest of the 00s. However, I have a real problem with how his films are edited. Stephen Mirrione and Douglas Crise have edited most of González Iñárritu's films, I have no idea how much input the director has here but I would argue that there are problems with it within all of his films, which I find quite distracting. Babel being the best worst example. There are some wonderful compositions here that are skipped over far too quickly, and some footage that most directors would have left on the cutting room floor. I love Guillermo Arriaga's writing but  González Iñárritu's adaptations never quite hit the mark I feel, especially when compared to Tommy Lee Jones's amazing The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. I'm not surprised the duo parted ways after Babel, a move that was good for both of them though I feel. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett had an easy day at the office in my opinion, neither impress or disappoint, only Rinko Kikuchi and the Moroccan cast impressed me. Unlike Guillermo Arriaga's original script (that Alejandro González Iñárritu later fiddled with), the film is a contrived mess of illogical musing failing to convince or even entertain. Stereotype? Karma? Understanding? Unseen and unheard communication? A butterfly flaps its wings and a hurricane starts blowing on the other side of the world...and gives me a headache. Its all foreplay and no action, and the foreplay ain't that great either. It looks beautiful and there is a great idea here but Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo Arriaga are better than this. It's overrated in my opinion.
Dir: Ang Lee
Ang Lee's 2007 Lust, Caution is a great espionage thriller. It is not however, an erotic film as it was unfortunately sold as, unless of course brutal rape is your cup of tea!? I have to say I'm quite disappointed and appalled by the production team (or whoever is responsible) for stating this as a sales pitch. It's like saying Gaspar Noé's Irreversible is a porn film. Anyway, that aside, this is a fantastic World War II thriller from a somewhat different perspective that Hollywood rarely deals with. Tony Leung is fantastic as always and Wei Tang and Kar Lok Chin are definitely young actors to look out for in future. Lust, Caution is however, a bit too long. I have nothing against long films, far from it, but the story really didn't warrant the 150+ minute run time. I'm not sure if this is based on true events, if it is then fine but if it isn't, which I expect, I'd have to say the ending was far from a decent reward for two and a half hours viewing. I'm not Ang Lee's biggest fan either but this isn't a bad film, it's rich in performance and in its visuals but it certainly doesn't deserve repeat viewing.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Invaders from Mars
Dir: William Cameron Menzies
William Cameron Menzies' Invaders from Mars is the king of the 50's UFO/sci-fi horror B-Movie/Alien abduction movies. I was terrified the first time I watched it and my spine never fails to tingle each and every time I revisit it. It's influence is very obvious now, not just in sci-fi films but in thrillers and horrors. The eerie sound of a choir getting gradually louder, now synonymous with aliens and other horribles in film, can be heard in many a horror movie made since and has rarely been bettered. The Omen, for example, owes Invaders from Mars a great deal as Ave Satani was a very important aspect of the film's success and Invaders from Mars was clearly an inspiration. Indeed, Mort Glickman's terrifying score is one of many components of the film that have kept it a firm favorite among film fans as well as film makers, Stanley Kubrick being one of the most prominent examples. It was the first alien/UFO movie to be filmed in colour, although it was rushed through in order to beat George Pal's War of the Worlds that came very soon after. The direction is rather clever, every shot composed to either minimize the main character, in order to create a mood of hopelessness or to maximize the alien's and their ship to overwhelm the viewer. The pace of the film creeps forward at a snail's pace but the payoff is well worth it. The unbearable tension is heightened by fourteen year old Jimmy Hunt's pained expressions and ghostly narration. The idea that young David's family and friends are taken one by one and essentially brainwashed, could be considered to be unhealthy cold-war paranoia during the 50's fear of all things red. This may or may not have been the intention but it certainly does feel like western propaganda in it's effectiveness. What really makes it the masterpiece it is though is its subjective ending. Is it real, is it really happening or is it just a reoccurring dream? The viewer is left with unanswered questions, on the edge of their seats and with lots to think about. One thing is for certain though, they won't sleep well that night. An unmissable sci-fi horror classic.

Rat Pfink a Boo Boo (AKA The Adventures of Rat Pfink and Boo Boo)
Dir: Ray Dennis Steckler
Ray Dennis Steckler's 1966 cult movie started out as a serious crime drama and was to be called The Depraved. The opening scene is fairly chilling too, somewhere between the 50's biker movies in mood and one of Roger Corman's better films, with a bit of Beachsploitation thrown in for good measure. The budget was small, Steckler himself guessing that it cost around about $20. Once that $20 was spent he realised he could make the film he first intended to make and decided to spoof the Adam West fronted Batman TV series that was popular at the time. Needless to say, it is not to be taken seriously. However, there is a lot to admire about the film. Firstly, they just went out and filmed it. I have huge respect for no nonsense Guerrilla filmmaking. Secondly, the overall production is actually quite impressive. The compositions within the film are fantastic, the opening scene could be from a professional studio made production. The sound is also phenomenal, each scene being accompanied by a harsh and intense mix of screams, scratches or over-dubbed dialogue which works perfectly within the film. Indeed, the young Keith A. Wester went on to be nominated for six academy awards for his work in sound before his death in 2002. The big switch from serious crime drama to spoof after the first 40 minutes is actually a genius decision by the then young director and he clearly understands what a spoof is and should be. It's funny and strange in equal measure and I find funny and strange to be quite successful companions. It's no masterpiece but it is one of those cinematic oddities that make film so interesting.
Best Worst Movie
Dir: Michael Stephenson
Michael Stephenson woke one morning and realised that he was the child star of what is without a doubt, the worst film ever made. There is something quite cool about that and it made him happy and it gave him an idea. In his Best Worst Movie, we discover that there are many people out there that actually love and embrace Troll 2 and think of it as a work of art. These people are relatively normal too, although their enthusiasm is a little nauseating and I'd hate to be stuck in an elevator with any of them. Stephenson visits each one of his former co-stars and sees what they're up to now and tries to coax them all to join him in several Q&A screenings of the film. This proves successful when he visits his screen dad turned dentist, George Hardy. It's fair to say Hardy steals the show as he, like many of the viewers, don't know what all the fuss is about but is happy to be part of it. Hardy wanted to be an actor but went into dentistry as a safe option. He accompanies Stephenson on his Q&A sessions and screenings and is blown away by the popularity of the film and it's now cult status. He also helps Stephenson recruit former co-stars to join them which leads to one of the most uncomfortable scenes I've ever witnessed as they visit Stephenson's former screen Mum and Hardy's screen Wife, Margo Prey. While visiting Prey they coax her into re-enacting several scenes, all is good until it becomes clear that she has had certain mental health issues since 1989. As an attendee to many sci-fi and film conventions, it was interesting to see the actor's reaction upon entering the circuit. Momentum is lost somewhat when absolutely no one is interested in their autographs or merchandise. Settling what I've always said about the film; It's not the Best Worst Movie, it is just the worst movie that a very select few enjoy. It's a very likable documentary though, a masterpiece compared to Troll 2 anyway.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Dir: Brian Yuzna
Brian Yuzna's 1989 film Society is one of the most underrated and overlooked horrors of all time. The late 80s and early 90s spawned many a great horror movie, directors like Brian Yuzna, Frank Henenlotter, Peter Jackson and Stuart Gordon at the forefront, making some of the most absurd, colourful, gory and inventive films at the time. Society has the perfect balance of horror, suspense, humour and gore but it's also quite intelligent. Based on society's ideological class system and the idea of the rich being a desirable but impenetrable group, Society questions capitalism in the middle of the yuppie era. It's actually more of a grotesque satire than a pure horror film, very much in the vein of H.P. Lovecraft who is a huge inspiration to Yuzna's work. The general idea is that the rich feed off the poor and stick together, quite literally thanks to the amazing effects by horror legend Screaming Mad George (Big Trouble in Little China, Predator, A Nightmare on Elm Street III: Dram Warriors). As well as a class satire, it's a swipe at the 80s teen films in general. Our leading man Bill Whitney (played by Baywatch's Billy Warlock) is a popular high-school student, dates the lead cheerleader and drives a Jeep Wrangler. He's the epitome of what every kid wanted to be in the 1980s and yet he's troubled. When he finally discovers the despicable truth of everything it's like Yuzna has just punched the Breakfast Club in the face. A one of a kind masterpiece.
In God We Tru$t
Dir: Marty Feldman
In God We Tru$t was the second and last film to be directed by comedy great Marty Feldman following his 1977 debut The Last Remake of Beau Geste. It is a mix of Monty Python and the sort of thing you'd expect from a Gene Wilder film but considering Feldman wrote for both it is hardly surprising and shouldn't be regarded as anything other than original comedy. Unlike Monty Python's Life of Brian, In God We Tru$t takes more of a swipe at evangelicalism, although a lot of what is parodied has weirdly come true. It's the little skits within the film that really make it the fall about film that it is. Feldman's physical comedy reaches much further than his wonky eyes and the brilliant props really are genius, my favorite being a sign that hangs outside the monastery where the Monks, who have taken a vow of silence, reads "Keep thy Trappist shut". Louise Lasser is lovely as the Hooker that teaches Feldman's Brother Ambrose about sex, describing the act as ordering dinner, and Peter Boyle is reunited with Feldman as a down on his luck religious con-artist. Richard Pryor almost steals the show as G.O.D. a supreme supercomputer but it is Andy Kaufman as televangelist Armageddon T. Thunderbird who makes the film somewhat unforgettable. Brilliant comedy from some sorely missed greats. Satire has never been so innocent, it's so sweat that I'm sure even the Pope could forgive them their fun.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Dir: Frank Henenlotter
Frank Henenlotter is a one of a kind comedy horror director best known for his Basket Case trilogy. He made Brain Damage (1988) and Frankenhooker between each film and personally I think the latter is his best work to date. Bill Murray actually said upon its release "If you see one movie this year, it should be Frankenhooker" and looking back at 1990 I can't help but think he was right. It's an absurd and macabre comedy horror in the style of Braindead & Society with just that little bit more added bad taste. Frank Henenlotter takes his horror seriously though, the film cost a whopping $2.5 million which was a lot for a B-Movie horror and he hired actors from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). However, many of the SAG members wouldn't do nudity so Henenlotter went to his local stripper bar and got membership for many of the girls and promptly hired them as legitimate actresses. Due to the film's graphic nature, it was hard for Henenlotter to acquire an R rating from the MPAA. A representative of the ratings body actually called Henenlotter's production office and said "Congratulations, yours is the first film to be rated S". Henenlotter assumed "S? For sex?" and the reply was "No. S for S**t". Henenlotter released it unrated. It is far from S**t. The scene where seven prostitutes take copious amounts of crack and explode makes it worth watching alone. It actually has quite a heartwarming message to it and a rather lovely ending I thought. It is fair to say they don't make them like this anymore, a unique and brilliant gore-comedy from a unique time in horror history.
Dir: Sam Mendes
SPECTRE is the twenty-fourth Eon James Bond film, Daniel Craig's fourth outing as 007 and the second film in the franchise to be directed by Sam Mendes. Fans of the series will know of SPECTRE's role in the films but they might not know about the rights issues the fictional organisation and associated characters have had over the years. Kevin McClory and Ian Flemming got into a legal battle after the completion of the Thunderball script. Flemming made the film without crediting McClory who it later transpired had actually written the screenplay. Flemming got the rights to the novel but McClory got the rights to the characters and sued when they were used subsequently. SPECTRE and the character of Ernst Stavro Blofeld are owned by McClory, who remade Thunderball in the largely panned but financially successful Never Say Never Again. So, when Sam Mendes and Eon announced that the next Bond film would be SPECTRE, speculation was rife. Did this mean that Ernst Stavro Blofeld was coming back? Kevin McClory did indeed make a deal with Eon in 2013 and both SPECTRE and Blofeld were fair game once more but as M says at one point in the film 'A licence to kill is also a licence not to kill'.

SPECTRE's opening scene is awesome. It may well be my favorite of the franchise so far, with a beautifully steady build up and explosive finale. It is this opening scene that really captures the essence of Bond; his sophistication, confidence and blind luck that make him so charming, endearing and untouchable. I was thrilled. Then came the staple surreal title sequence (which I didn't like), that song and it never quite hit the mark from then on in. The first third of the film is pretty impressive still, there are some beautiful shots of Bond traveling across a lake, an exciting interrogation and rather chilling scene whereby Bond is spotted in a secret meeting but these shouldn't really have been the highlights. The last two-thirds of the film are poor attempts at breaking the mold, something the Daniel Craig films keep trying to achieve but fail at with every attempt. The writers and Mendes have tried hard to emulate the character, the classic Sean Connery films and Flemming's novels while trying something new but in doing so they have actually made cheap imitations and made irreversible decisions. In SPECTRE Bond goes rouge, again. He has almost the same car chase as he did in A View to a Kill, he has the same fight on a train as he did in The Spy Who Loved Me, gets into trouble in a snowy mountain-top resort as seen in On Her Majesty's Secret Service and he is tortured in a scene that is straight out of Goldfinger. The evil henchman is essentially a night-club bouncer and his gimmick is that he has long thumb nails. The bigger roles given to Miss Moneypenny and Q made me wonder if Eon are slightly worried about the Mission Impossible films success and have stupidly tried to make it more of a team film. There are many things Bond hasn't yet done, I'm not sure they really need to cover so much old ground, again. You could almost say that SPECTRE is a remake but I think re-hash is a more apt description although that said, the script has more in common with Bond spoof Austin Powers in Goldmember and I wish is was joking. This is straight out of the Star Trek Into Darkness school of how not to re-boot a franchise. Christoph Waltz's character is a huge disappointment. His big evil plan, that ties in all of the Craig Bond films, is as far from terrifying as you can get. In fact it's been done in real life, which is far more scary. When his motivation for being so evil was revealed I wanted to throw the little old lady I was sitting next to in the cinema at the screen. I dare say she wanted to throw me too, the poor dear. The film has too many writers, I'm sure John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth thought they were being post-modern by rather knowingly blowing up the secret layer before the last sequence and showing up the main villain somewhat but what they have essentially done is make Bond redundant and made a mockery of the ethos and what the fans cherish. After said lair explodes Bond quips "It's not over yet" making the audience believe they'd finally come up with a more original ending but they don't, they just blow up another lair. They and Mendes have essentially said 'Try and top that!' which isn't really in the spirit of the franchise, for all intents and purposes they've killed the series. They may think they've steered Bond down a new road and taken a new direction but they haven't at all, they've essentially destroyed everything and merely suggested a change without doing anything creative in order for the character to continue. Sam Mendes does dazzle with his glorious visuals but it's all far too theatrical with very little content. Most shockingly of all, they all forgot to make it fun. At one point 007 is told by a bad guy that 'You're a kite dancing in a hurricane Mr. Bond' but the truth is there is no hurricane, just a lot of hot air.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Prince of Darkness
Dir: John Carpenter
I would argue that 1987's Prince of Darkness is John Carpenter's scariest film of all. The Thing had lots of gore, The Fog had chills and Halloween pretty much invented the slasher but it is Prince of Darkness, with its atmospheric portrayal of inescapable and impending doom, of the most evil kind, that makes it something rather unique. Of all the horror films I've seen, it is only Prince of Darkness that makes me feel fear at the thought of entering a room alone or going down into the basement. I love the fact that the characters aren't a bunch of kids entering a haunted house either, they are all scientists and technicians, none are superstitious or even afraid for the most part, making the scary parts seem even more natural and realistic. I didn't feel the same sense of dread with Carpenter's Halloween, it made me jump out of my skin and it is often uncomfortably intense but it was a case of either the characters die or they don't. It's the best example of a slasher/haunted house horror, Prince of Darkness takes that idea to the next level. It's a slasher of sorts, it has a lot in common with exorcism movies, it's a Zombie film, it deals with hell and hell being other dimension like, making it a great sci-fi horror too. It's got everything you could want from a real, non-comedy horror film. It's the only film I could watch alone and feel uncomfortable and I recommend all horror fans watch it late, with the lights off and alone at least once for full effect. Highlights include; Alice Cooper as evil homeless man, death by half a bicycle, "Lisa Lisa, Mona Lisa", the great Donald Pleasence and Victor Wong, a brilliant ensemble supporting cast and of course Carpenter's signature score. If anyone has any doubts regarding Carpenter's capabilities as a horror director (and I'm not sure anyone has) then they can't deny that everything scary he shoots is double effective, thanks to his amazing soundtracks. For me, Carpenter is the masters of horror and Prince of Darkness is criminally overlooked.
Kajaki (AKA Kilo Two Bravo)
Dir: Paul Katis
Paul Katis' 2014 war drama Kajaki is a unique and gripping film that should change the way war is depicted in film from now on. It tells the true story of an indecent involving the British Army's 3rd Battalion, the parachute regiment, near the Kajaki Dam in Afghanistan in 2006. During a routine patrol, a solder steps on a land mine hidden in a dried out riverbed which leads to a devastating turn of events and what seemed like an impossible rescue attempt involving many solders. The film shows the bravery of the men that day in what was a hellish experience. There is next to no fighting in the film and not one of the solders shoots their rife at an enemy, instead, the story depicts the honest comradery the solders share, like the tag line says; For Queen, for country, for your mates. It's not a pro-war exercise, neither is it a pro-army recruitment film, it simply shows the lengths the solders will go for each other, how they are with each other and harsh situations they find themselves in. It also highlights the issues in communication (or lack of) within war. An accident depicted happened due to mistakes made from a rescue party, not 'friendly fire' as such but as frustrating as. The land-mines in question are ones left from the Russians in the 1980's which also highlights another of the many problems with conflict. It's one of the most intense films I've ever seen, close to being a horror film or thriller rather than a typical war film. I think this probably does the story justice, war is horror for most people involved, it should never be glorified and it certainly isn't here. It's rare that a film shows the needlessness of war so effectively. The real life solders are an inspiration in the way you deal with what life throws at you rather than an inspiration to sign up, whether you agree with this particular war or not, this is an event everyone can learn from and men everyone should admire. The film is extremely simple but devastatingly effect, one of the best of 2014.
Captain America
Dir: Rod Holcomb
1979's TV movie based on Marvel's Captain America is about as low budget as Superhero movies get. The first half of the film feels more like a cross between Murder She Wrote, QuincyM.E. and The bits of The Incredible Hulk that don't have the Incredible Hulk in. The acting is fairly bad, the story makes little sense and it's a little slow and lacks the action you'd expect from a Superhero movie. The second half of the film gets a little more exciting but the word exciting is a bit of an exaggeration. This isn't really the Captain America that excited a generation of comic book fans, it really isn't, as this version is actually the son of Captain America. Captain America's son is an ex-marine motorcycle enthusiast, essentially he's Captain Knievel. His motorbike has a retro-coolness about it, although it does look rubbish if I'm being honest but the fact that Cap's famous Vibranium Steel alloy shield is now made from transparent, and rather wobbly plastic helps as somewhat of a distraction. However, I quite like it. It's the sort of thing I grew up watching. It's not very good at all but I loved it as a child and have slight warm feelings of nostalgia when re-watching it. This nostalgia has made me double my star rating, giving the film two stars it should be proud of.
The Continued Adventures of Reptile Man (AKA Brittle Glory)
Dir: Stewart Schill
I think the idea behind 1997's The Continued Adventures of Reptile Man, or Brittle Glory as it is also know, had so much potential, especially as it had a Hollywood great cast in the leading role. Unfortunately that potential was totally wasted. The idea of an aging actor, whose biggest hit was as a popular 60s TV Superhero (Reptile Man), coming to terms with the facts that his career is over and he isn't really Reptile Man, is great. The possibilities are endless and Tony Curtis does deliver some wonderfully dramatic lines, but for some reason writer/director Stewart Schill concentrates more on Reptile Man's assistant Lewis, known as The Tadpole, as that was Reptile Man's side-kick in the show. Reptile Man promises to help Lewis with his career in acting as payment for assisting him with day to day chores as well as special appearances. Reptile Man then sabotages any success Lewis has so that he won't leave him. A third of the film has Curtis as a confused old actor, tormenting Lewis as a distraction from his own deep regrets and slipping into Reptile character when his emotions are at their extreme. This is a fascinating character piece with great script and impressive performance. The other two-thirds of the film deal with Lewis's depression, frustration and relationship with his wife. Arye Gross (Lewis) and Ally Walker (Lewis's wife) aren't very good actors and shouldn't have been given as much screen time as they both bring the film down, especially when Curtis is so good. Their character's story is utterly pointless and brings nothing to the film. The low budget isn't the problem either, writing is. One of my favorite films of all time, 1992's Eddie Presley, has a similar story and an even smaller budget but understands the characters and concentrates on the main subject. The Wrestler is also a great example of getting it right, neither are comedies though, so it's a shame that they couldn't even get what Schill describes as 'satire' right. The great Tony Curtis is gone now, you'll never get him back and yet you had him and wasted a golden opportunity. I wonder if this film keeps Stewart Schill up at night, like his character Reptile Man, who's regret eventually sends him mad.
Tony Benn: Will And Testament
Dir: Skip Kite
Skip Kite's Will And Testament is a defining portrait of a great man and the UK's most respected political figure of recent years. Both loved and hated and once referred to as Briton's most dangerous man, Benn changed opinion on a vast scale and was berated by those who would not profit from his socialist opinion. Tony Benn was very much a man of the people who fought for civil rights and is a rare example of a member of parliament who could admit when they were wrong and then do something about it. Loved and hated but always respected and once he was no longer seen as a danger to the right he was declared, by everybody, as a national treasure. I hope Will And Testament will go as far to keep his memory and what he achieved alive in these fickle times. It's a great factual document of Benn's political activities but also a very personal tribute to him and his wife. There are no interviews with anyone other than Benn, making this very much his film and indeed, his last will and testament as he died just before its release. The structure of the film, having each chapter of his life represented individually on a sound-stage he walks around, is very effective without being emotionally manipulative. It's a one of a kind documentary for a one of a kind man, made with the admiration and respect he deserved.
The Pianist
Dir: Roman Polanski
The Pianist is probably Roman Polanski's greatest achievement as well as his most personal work to date. Polanski himself was an escapee of the Krakow Ghetto and like the Pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman, was one of the few people who hid for the rest of the war without getting caught. Polanski was probably the only director who could bring Szpilman's biography to the big screen as he understood the conditions of the Ghetto and the fear the Jews would have felt. He would also have witnessed the same atrocities as Szpilman and decided to show the various acts of cruelty for what they were. The fact that Szpilman was helped by a German officer could have been manipulated for all the wrong reasons. Instead, The Pianist is relentless in showing the most horrific of events, which I believe is the best and only way to treat a story such as this, but asks no sympathy of the view, rather asks the audience to watch, learn, understand and then question. There is an element of sentimentally to the film but it is a true story, it is sentimentally that ultimately saved Szpilman but this isn't explored for reward, it is actually a stark reminder that the cruelty that happened during the second world war made no sense at all. Szpilman's life goes back to normal after the War, he returns to the job he was doing previously, not as if nothing had happened but it does leave the question of why it happened. This is why The Pianist is so successful and makes it stand out from other films about the holocaust. Szpilman wasn't a fighter, he was a survivor, as was Polanski. Szpilman's biography touches on a guilt he felt, as many who survive when others don't can feel. His music saved him in more ways than one, and Polanski can relate to this, making the film a valuable lesson in inhumanity and artistic redemption. It's an astonishing film and essential viewing for all.
The Evil Dead
Dir: Sam Raimi
Sam Raimi's 1981 The Evil Dead is a horror masterpiece and is King of the video nasties. It's is also a masterclass in independent film making, how to and how not to make your own film. Raimi and childhood friend Bruce Campbell had made a few Super 8 films together as kids and after becoming interested in the horror genre, they decided to make a short (Within the Woods) and plug it to the studios with the idea of getting funding for a feature length version. It was a clever move that somehow paid off. The shoot took over a year to complete and was grueling for all involved. Raimi had borrowed money from everyone he knew and the cast and crew were made up of mostly friends and family. The making of the film is covered amusingly in Bruce Campbell's brilliant autobiography; If Chins Could Kill. He recounts the endless days of shooting in the cold, the intentional pain Raimi put the acts through in order to get the right 'horror' reactions and the grueling daily make-up rituals that would include sticking contact lenses with the thickness of tupperware in his eyes. It's fair to say that the lack of budget made Raimi into a creative director. Steadicams were expensive, so Raimi invented the 'Shaky-cam'. He used crew as stand ins when the main actors were busy doing other things, referring to them as 'Shemps', a technique he would continue in pretty much every film he's made since. The unique use of sound really makes the film stand out among other horror films, Raimi being influenced by the experimentation going on by Brian De Palma for his film Blow Out in the sound studio they were both using. The editing is also phenomenal. A young Joel Coen was working at the editing production studio at the time and after working on the film he and Raimi became good friends, Raimi being the influence for him to get his debut Blood Simple made. Raimi, Campbell and the Coens would join forces once more for the brilliant but highly underrated Crimewave. All of the unique and creative components Raimi brought to the film made it a true original and after horror master Stephen King gave it positive reviews, New Line Cinema decided to give it a go a distribute it, to much success. Its notoriety made it a cult hit in a very short time. It's originality and perfection in capturing pure terror resonated with audiences and it has been regarded as one of cinema's greatest horrors since.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Quantum of Solace
Dir: Marc Forster
Quantum of Solace, the twenty-sixth Bond film of the series, is the first direct sequel of the franchise, as the story follows on from 2006's Casino Royale. The title of the film also comes from one of the short stories collected in Ian Flemming's For Your Eyes Only, although quite typically with Bond films, it has absolutely nothing in common to its plot. Casino Royale rebooted the franchise quite successfully and Quantum of Solace builds on the new direction it set quite well, or at least it does on paper. The overall idea and story of the film is fantastic, it's back to classic Bond territory, full of espionage, suspense and intelligent thinking. It harnesses the idea that this is a new Bond, the beginning of his career, a Bond who had nothing to do with the cold-war. It should have been like the original Sean Connery Bonds but with a shot of adrenaline in the arm, but it isn't. Due to the writers guild of America strike, Daniel Craig and Marc Foster wrote a lot of the script themselves and it really shows. It's hard to say who wrote what but it is safe to say that none of it gels particularly well, with much of the story being quite hard to follow. This isn't helped by the punchy editing that often makes it feel like a perfume advert. The idea behind Gemma Arterton's Agent Strawberry Fields being killed off by drowning in a vat of oil is a very clever nod to Goldfinger's Jill Masterson (played by Shirley Eaton) being killed by being covered in Gold. Oil is the new Gold. This builds Bond's new world rather well, and his quest for vengeance over the murder of his lover from the previous film builds his persona brilliantly. Ian Flemming wrote that "If you don't have a quantum of solace in your relationship than the relationship is over". Bond's loss is shaping him into the character of Flemming's books, an edgier and more believable Bond. At least, this was the aim. I liked the 'Mad Max' style ultimatum the villain was given at the end but very little else. Overall the film is confusing and rather dull, the exciting scenes aren't particularly exciting, it's just that little too violent and it has little of the charm the character is known for. The cast is strong but no one delivers an outstanding performance, Judi Dench is given a particularly rotten script to deliver and in the end I ended up craving all the silliness, humour and nonsense that often ruined the previous incarnations. It feels like that what we all thought we wanted wasn't really what we wanted at all.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Dir: Bong Joon-ho
Snowpiercer is a South Korean sci-fi thriller, filmed in English with a cross section of English, American and South Korean actors, based on a French Comic book and set on a futurist Train. It's as brilliant and as nuts as that sounds. I can totally see the French comic book influence and that it was directed by the brilliant Bong Joon-ho and I think it is wonderful that they've incorporated so many people from various different cultures within the film. After an experiment intended to clean the earths air goes horribly wrong the planet enters a new ice-age. The planet's only survivors are the ones who made it onto the Snowpiercer, a futuristic self-sufficient mile-long Train that circles the globe, powered by perpetual motion alone. The story begins at the back of the train where we see poverty, illness and the beginnings of a revolution. It's clear that people towards the front are in a better situation and that there is a social hierarchy on board the train, although nothing is ever really explained to the viewer. The overthrow of power and a forceful push forward begins a journey of brutal discovery for the train's lower classes as they learn the truth behind the way they have been living for the past 17 years. It's beautifully symbolic of the global class system that includes politics, indoctrination, wealth and power. The driver, creator and caretaker of the train, Minister Wilford, is a brilliant representation of the God delusion and other characters, such as the key master, deputy-minister, revolutionist, Mother, union leader etc, represent various different cross sections (and the simplicity and ridiculousness of each) of society perfectly. There is a great lesson that not everything we want is for the best and what is best isn't what anyone really wants. It's the entire history of mankind covered by the journey from one end of a train to another. It's wonderfully inventive and brilliantly clever and is honestly the sort of thing you'd expect George Orwell to think up if he had been born fifty years later than he was. Everyone is on top form; Bong Joon-ho's direction is exceptional, Song Kang-ho's drug taking key opener mysterious, Chris Evans delivers one of the most astonishing, shocking and emotional lines of dialogue I've seen for a long time and Tilda Swinton's Deputy minister Mason, is an amazing character that, in her own words was a middle-management style mix of Margaret Thatcher, Colonel Gaddafi, Adolf Hitler and Silio Berlusconi, with a thick Yorkshire accent and buck teeth. It's an amazing performance of a character we're not likely to see ever again. Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Octavia Spencer, Ewen Bremner, Ed Harris and Alison Pill all play their parts and symbolic roles perfectly, making for quite the ensemble cast. it's clear they all saw the importance of the story and loved every minute of making it. The claustrophobia and restrictions of being set on a train has lead to some ingenious creative thinking as far as the effects, sets and ideas go, making every scene completely different from the last and consistently exciting. The few exterior shots are nothing short of stunning. Due to a ridiculous decision by Harvey Weinstein over distribution rights (and because Bong Joon-ho refused to cut 20 minutes of footage) Snowpiercer was released in only eight cinemas in the US on it's initial release. It's had a wider release since but with very little advertisement, making it one of the best films of 2013 that very few people have seen. It's a modern sci-fi classic and will be universally regarded as such in good time I'm positive.