Friday, 29 May 2015

Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx
Dir: Waris Hussein
1970
*****
Gene Wilder has been in so many brilliant and celebrated films, I suppose it's no surprise that one of his smaller films could be overlooked. Made between The Producers and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (but just after Start the Revolution Without Me), Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx was a small production with very limited release in the USA and only 4 other countries (Hungary, Ireland, Denmark & Sweden), all released a good few years later, 2 years later in Ireland even though it was the country the film was made and is set in. It's actually a bit of a crime, as Gene Wilder is on top form, giving one of his best performances, balancing drama and comedy sublimely, as he often does. His Irish accent is pretty convincing too. The story is lovely, funny and romantic with an earthly realism to it and possibly one of the best endings to a film ever. The character of Quackser (called Quackser because he made Duck noises as a child) is brilliantly written but it's obvious that it is Wilder who really brings him to life. The script is beautifully written but it's those little silent moments that really speak volumes and are most effective. The stunning Margot Kidder is perfect in her supporting role as Quacker's object of affection and the chemistry between the both of them is wonderful. The directing style is very much of the time, an era of film that I think is very special. Quackser Fortune is a forgotten gem, criminally overlooked and very much worth seeking out.


Santa Sangre
Dir: Alejandro Jodorowsky
1989
****
Alejandro Jodorowsky's Santa Sangre is typically laced with bizarre religious symbolism and gory, disturbing and yet somewhat beautiful violence. Alejandro Jodorowsky's long awaited return (16 years, via his film Tusk that didn't do so well) is just as disturbing and glorious as El Topo and The Holy Mountain but perhaps just not as good. This almost seemed mainstream compared to his older 'Cult' films, not a bad thing, it just doesn't seem as special, like Jodorowsky trying to out do himself. I remember hunting down a dodgy copy of El Topo in the early 90's, it took ages but when I got it, it was a good feeling, I totally understood what the underground fans had been going on about all that time. I rented Santa Sangre loads of times quite easily, so it never really had the same impact on a personal level. It is a crime that the great Alejandro Jodorowsky has made so few films, he's one in a million.

The Story of Adele H (L'Histoire d'Adèle H)
Dir: François Truffaut
1975
***
Isabelle Adjani's performance as the young Adèle Hugo during her journey from love, to obsession onto madness is beautifully done and is by far the real reason you should watch it. The set pieces and props etc are a little questionable at the best of times, as is the supporting cast (apart from Bruce Robinson - yes, that Bruce Robinson, who is great). The story is intriguing enough to follow but ultimately disappointing in its conclusion. Sure, it's biased on real people and actual events but not always correctly. It's certainly not as good as François Truffaut could be, particularly from a visual perspective.

Bowling for Columbine
Dir: Michael Moore
2002
*****
Say what you will about Michael Moore but this is a great documentary/mission. I say mission because it's not as straight forward as most documentaries. Michael Moore's films are pro-active, many dislike him for that very reason and can't see beyond the fact he makes money from his films, ignoring everything he has done for charities, but I believe him to be a selfless guy who's out to do his bit to make the world (well, America anyway) a better place. His attack on Charlton Heston was totally justified I believe, although I think it cost him a lot of respect. Heston represented the NRA way of thinking and made himself the poster boy of the 2nd amendment. The only way to improve the future is to question the decisions of the past. Remember how he got booed receiving his Oscar after he said 'Shame on W. Bush for attacking Iraq'? People changed their minds a few years later, and Hollywood was soon kissing his behind like it never happened. Just think how different things could have been if they'd just listened before, either way, he really got people thinking and then questioning, no easy feat in this day and age. Any documentary that provokes the blinkered is good in my book, but people who think you can't change an amendment (an alteration of or addition to a motion, bill, constitution, etc) still don't see it that way and so the fight continues. The stupid is highlighted brilliantly in what is one of the best opening scenes of a film ever, whereby Moore walks into a bank and takes advantage of their 'Free Gun for every new account' offer and asks the teller, "Do you think it's a little dangerous handing out Guns in a bank?". Politically and historically important and also responsible for a surge of brilliant documentaries. 
Démolition d'un mur (Demolition of a Wall)
Dir: Louis Lumiere, The Lumiere Brothers
1896
****
The pioneering Lumiere Brothers arguably developed the art of film making as we know it. With their short film Démolition d'un mur (Demolition of a Wall) in 1896 they did two things. They invented/discovered reverse filming, so we see the wall fall and then stand and fix itself (a technique that isn't bettered until 1978's Superman). A simple trick we've all seen before in this day and age but think how amazing it would have been back then. The second thing they did was make the first disaster film. Okay, not quite but it is interesting that one of the first films ever to be made is a document of destruction. We've created something that can now document the destruction of something else. Pioneers and influence, in all aspects of film making.


The Lovers on the Bridge (Les amants du Pont-Neuf)
Dir: Leos Carax
1991
*****
Leos Carax's 1991 Les amants du Pont-Neuf is a stunningly beautiful opus of dizzying madness and a love letter to Paris and to romance. Fans of Leos Carax's work will recognise much of his passion in what is the most critically acclaimed film of his career, although I've alway seen his films as being connected and a continuation of a bigger story. The Bridge (the Pont Neuf in Paris) is perfect as a point of interest, closed off and remote yet right in the middle of a bustling City, our two leads are both homeless and broken people but their love is no less than any one else's. It's full of beautiful and effective symbolism and the fireworks scene on the bridge is probably one of the most beautifully filmed in the history of cinema. Gutsy to point of recklessness but unashamedly indulgent, it's hard not to love. This is a special film and one that deserves to be seen.



Epic Movie
Dir: Aaron Seltzer, Jason Friedberg
2007
*
What Jason Friedberg & Aaron Seltzer actually do is project familiarity. That's it. They don't even try and write jokes it seems. The brain-dead of society see something like they've seen before and mistake humour with recognition. How did this happen? Is evolution going backwards? There is no parody either, it seems carbon copies of something with added boobs and fart noises is all you need. Needless to say, this is an awful film and a complete and utter waste of time, not insulting but you do have to wonder about the people who make and enjoy this sort of thing. The films they send up aren't even those that are considered 'Epics'.


The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Dir: Luis Buñuel
1972
****
Luis Buñuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie has all the surrealism and satire as you'd expect from the French director. I don't think it has the impact of Viridiana or is as accomplished as Belle de Jour but I would argue that the visuals are some of the funniest of his (for want of a better word), some subtle and some laugh out loud but none that are ever too obvious. It's Satire of the era and very accomplished, although a little dated. It's very of its time but the social issues regarding prejudice, snobbery, and hypocrisy still rings true today, as they have and probably always will continue to do. Compared to many of his contemporaries Buñuel is pretty tame, although there is something masterful in his subtlety.

Local Hero
Dir: Bill Forsyth
1983
****
Bill Forsyth's Local Hero is a funny little film. Whimsical, charming and odd but odd in the best possible way. Many Anglo-American projects don't work but I think this works because it doesn't work, there is certainly something serendipitous about it anyway. The leading performances by Peter Riegert, Denis Lawson and a very impressive young Peter Capaldi (who I see on my Train on the way to work most mornings) are fantastic but it's Burt Lancaster who really steals the show in one of my favourite comedy performances of all time. Any predictability is made up for with an exceptionally witty script. Charming as hell and the epitome of likable. Bill Forsyth's films are almost in their own genre, this being a good example of his fine work.
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
Dir: Woody Allen
2010
*
It's nice to see a Woody Allen film shot in London, it's just a shame that You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger wasn't a very good one. I saw none of him in this film and I disliked the cast of actors that I generally and usually like, in this immensely. I do wish Allen would stop trying so hard to do European cinema, Vicky Cristina Barcelona was good but again, it felt like it was an imitation of modern Spanish cinema. I guess sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't but I feel it is wearing a little thin and often feels unauthentic (although Midnight in Paris was a return to form). Quality not quantity please Mr. Allen, and without wanting to sound too harsh, we have a couple of directors by the names of Mike Leigh and Ken Loach who do these kinds of film over here and they do them far better. That might sound a bit harsh but I'm afraid I was bored to tears during this film and the idea of either Leigh or Loach doing a New York equivalent is just as unappealing.
Full Moon in Paris (Les Nuits de la pleine lune)
Dir: Éric Rohmer
1984
***
 I didn't find Les Nuits de la pleine lune satisfying initially but second half and it's conclusion made it well worth the watch. I enjoyed seeing Paris and its suburbs circa 84', I actually first visited Paris in 84 and remember it fondly. There were plenty of reminders here to get me all nostalgic, which helped a lot as this isn't the most entertaining of Éric Rohmer's films. The fact that I couldn't stand the main character Louise probably didn't help but, without wanting to spoil it for anyone, what happens to her eventually made me smile. Proverb executed perfectly, which is arguably what Rohmer did best.
Primal
Dir: Josh Reed
2010
*
The Australians make brilliant films, particularly their horror films. Josh Reed's Primal however, is the exception. It's utter rubbish. A good horror film is either good because of its originality or because it explores peoples genuine fears, so ten out of ten for originality but it doesn't really make up for it, that is unless you have ever been frightened of being raped by a 6 foot slug. It's not a comedy horror either. If you want a really good Australian horror and are scared of the outdoors, try Colin Eggleston's Long Weekend instead. Or read a book, do some Gardening, call your mother, anything but this.
I Live In Fear (Ikimono no kiroku)
Dir: Akira Kurosawa
1955
*****
I live in fear is not typical of Kurosawa's work but it is probably one of the most important films he made. A reaction to and a social commentary on the bombing of Hiroshima, a subject avoided at the time in Japan, so much so that they had to use a giant Lizard to express and represent their fears. Kurosawa opened up Japan's usual conservative attitude and lead debate on societies fear and anxiety and in doing so built bridges of understanding with the western world. The world feared the bomb but Japan suffered the bomb, paranoia versus realism, the big difference between 'fear of the bomb' films typical of Hollywood and the rest of the world at the time. Toshiro Mifune is brilliant in a role unfamiliar and unusual for him, and although the film is one of Kurosawa's least popular, it just might be one of Mifune's greatest performances. He is joined by the ever brilliant Takashi Shimura once again, although he really doesn't get enough screen time for my liking. Touching but never melodramatic, engaging and bold, unfairly overlooked for the masterpiece that it is.

"If the birds and the animals knew what we know, they would leave?"
Holy Smoke
Dir: Jane Campion
2000
**
Comedy dramas are ten a penny but that's not to say they're easy and always work. That's not to say you can't have dramatic moments in comedy or funny scenes in dramas but this particular film fumbles between the two in such a clumsy way that neither the drama or the comedy elements hold any weight. Jane Campion is a better writer and director than this, the performances from Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel are fine, so I'm afraid the blame lies with her. It has been sold as a 'Sexy Satire' but I'm afraid I saw no satire and nudity doesn't automatically make something sexy in my opinion. I was thoroughly bored by the middle of the film and there was no great conclusion to make me feel I'd spent my time wisely. The direction was good but not enough.

Thursday, 28 May 2015



Some Kind of Hero
Dir: Michael Pressman
1982
*****
Richard Pryor was a one off. I can't think of any other comedian/actor who could have played the role of Eddie Keller as well as he did. His ability of balancing what is quite a serious and heartbreaking story with humour perfectly still seems impossible but he did it and he did it effortlessly. His portrayal of a prisoner of war is appropriately serious but he also shows the human side, the coping side that gets you through the toughest of times. This is explored beautifully and quite simply by Pryor feeding and talking to a rat that enters his cell once a night, a really lovely scene that I think has been overlooked when discussing great moments in cinema. His reaction to the unfortunate news that awaits him at home upon release looks real, even though you know him and love him as a stand up, you believe he really is that person and in that position. It's quite profound. The film does slip into the sort of comedy we expect from Pryor, absolutely nothing wrong in that, but I would argue that it never effects the overall mood and point of the film. Support from my childhood crush, the lovely Margot Kidder, is perfect and it's interesting to see Ronny Cox in a non-bad guy role such as this for a change. It is also one of my favorite performances from the late Ray Sharkey, an actor i'm convinced would have been a-list had he not died so young. Some Kind of Hero has everything you could want in a film, it's the sort of film that made me fall in love with cinema in the first place and I love it.

Total Recall
Dir: Len Wiseman
2012
****
We Can Remember It For You Wholesale isn't exactly a catchy name but honestly, if this film had picked a different name to that of the 1990 'adaption' of Philip K Dick's short story then it wouldn't have received all the criticism it did. First off, it's not a remake. It's nothing like the original film. What it is is a better adaption of Philip K Dick's short story, the original film barely came close. This is Philip K Dick as hell, a brilliant visualisation of his world. I found in my experience that the most critical of critics were the ones that hadn't actually read the original or indeed and of K Dick's work. Blade Runner improved on the story Do Androids dream of electric Sheep (although I'd love to see a more pure version with all the electric animals etc) and I believe this version of Total Recall improves on the original short story. I love the 1990 version but this is the sort of pure adaptation us hard core Philip K Dick fans have been waiting for, not specifically this story but his work in general. It's been more miss than hit on the big screen, hopefully that changes soon. Also, it didn't have to but it acknowledges the 1990 film rather nicely with a certain customs scene, look out for the large lady passing through the scanners, fans of the film will have noticed i'm sure.



Total Recall
Dir: Paul Verhoeven
1990
*****
It really didn't take long for Paul Verhoeven's Sci-fi action Total Recall to become regarded as a bonafied classic and for very good reason. Total Recall should really be classed as a guilty pleasure but when a film is this universally loved, there doesn't seem much point feeling guilty or pretending it's not your thing. Sci-fi snobbery will have you believe it to be an inferior impostor in the genre, purely because it is very loosely based on a Philip K. Dick short called We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. I'm a huge Philip K. Dick fan and while this is pretty far from his original idea, it's still pretty damn good and actually that little bit more exciting. It is cheesy as hell, exactly what you'd expect from a Paul Verhoeven/Arnold Schwarzenegger team up. It's got brilliant special effects, animatronics and make up, it's got a midget with a machine gun, a woman with three boobs, a robot taxi driver, a man with a face on his chest and all the one-liners you could ever want in a movie. There is a cool scene where Michael Ironside looses another limb too, but actually that's pretty standard for him and probably in his contract. It's action at it's most colourful and Sci-fi at it's silliest, impossible not to love.
Red Lights
Dir: Rodrigo Cortés
2012
**
The first half of Rodrigo Cortés's Red Lights is full of intrigue and mystery but the second half is one big embarrassing and horrible mess. Cillian Murphy really struggles when acting alongside two pros; Robert De Niro and Sigourney Weaver. Everyone else is a pointless sub-plot character and poor old Toby Jones is cast on his looks rather than his brilliant acting abilities once again which makes me sad. The ending is stupid, ridiculous, annoying and leaves the few good bits in the film redundant. Such a shame.
Stranger Than Paradise
Dir: Jim Jarmusch
1984
*****
Stranger than Paradise is a great example of Jim Jarmusch's sly deadpan humour that comes across so effortlessly hip and drips American cool. Baring in mind that this is only his second film, the direction is so impressive, not many young film makers can master the art of black and white as well as he did and so soon in his career. John Lurie is someone who should act more, although he's not at all wasted as a musician either but I'd like to see him on screen again. As you'd expect, the soundtrack is awesome.
Isolation
Dir: Billy O'Brien
2006
****
Billy O'Brien's eerie Isolation is everything that a low budget horror/thriller should be. It is atmospheric, it is intense, it is mysterious and it is original. Although it may seem ridiculous it never feels unbelievable and the characters are convincing. It's very well acted by a competent cast, never over the top and is very stylish but without the cheap horror film cliches, I'm so glad it didn't turn into a zombie cow film, although that might have been cool also. It should have been more successful and it certainly deserves more recognition in my opinion.

A Monster in Paris
Dir: Bibo Bergeron
2011
**
I wonder if there is a slight case of lost in translation with Bibo Bergeron's Monster in Paris as the script just doesn't work with what is going on. The animation is hit and miss, at times impressive but sometimes amateur. The story is nothing special either and most of the characters are forgettable and some a little too familiar to other animated characters I wont mention. The musical numbers were sweat and I did enjoy it but it wasn't all it could have been I support any studio that takes on the big boys but I'm afraid you'll have to do better than this if you want to make any impact.
Spider
Dir: David Cronenberg
2002
**
I love Spider's bleakness, I love it's simplicity. It's never in your face which highlights certain important scenes brilliantly and more importantly, disturbs more convincingly. The performances were very good, Gabriel Byrne in particular does a great job. Its not your typical David Cronenberg film, it's not in his usual style and you'd be forgiven for not realising it was his work. It is however, as beautiful as his other work, as suspenseful and is as well edited. It's quite a strange one though because, as you can see, on paper I really like it but in reality, I just couldn't get into it,it's hard to explain, it's a masterful film but it just doesn't entertain.

The Bourne Legacy
Dir: Tony Gilroy
2012
****
I seem to be going against the grain yet again with the Bourne franchise because I really liked The Bourne Legacy. I thought the way it interweaves with the final of the first three movies was brilliantly handled and I thought Jeremy Renner was much more interesting as a character than Matt Damon ever was. I haven't read the books and I can't say I'm interested in doing so but I thought this was a brave and well executed move and I now, unlike everyone else, look forward to seeing what else comes from the franchise. Eric Van Lustbader had written seven Jason Bourne books by 2012 and has written more since, the story obviously has legs and enough fans to keep it going after the death of original author Robert Ludlum and I look forward to seeing what they do next. The supporting cast were also good but I wasn't too enamored by Rachel Weisz I'm afraid.
The Bourne Ultimatum
Dir: Paul Greengrass
2007
***
The final chapter of Robert Ludlum's original Trilogy of Jason Bourne stories is probably the most exciting of the three. The climax isn't disappointing but I'm afraid it was a little predictable. Although I still think the Bourne Supremacy is the best written story, Ultimatum makes for a better action film and I can see why it is favoured among fans. Personally I thought it was overrated, much like the first film. It looked great and think Greengrass did just as good a job visually, I suppose I was disappointed mostly by the performances. Paddy Considine was a great inclusion but was only in it fleetingly, the same can be said for Gael Garcia Bernal, Daniel Bruhl and Albert Finney. I'm afriad I can't stand Julia Stiles, every scene with her in made my toes curl up. Overall a nice conclusion but is nice really what we wanted?
The Bourne Supremacy
Dir: Paul Greengrass
2004
****
The Bourne Supremacy is easily my favorite of the original trilogy. All of the who/what/why questions from the first film have been answered and it feels like the story finally get some momentum. It broke my heart to see Franka Potente exit the franchise but it was handled so beautifully I can't really knock it. It was great to see Karl Urban pop up as a convincing bad guy too and Brian Cox is great in his supporting role. Greengrass should have directed the whole Trilogy in my opinion, he really seems to get the character and Robert Ludlum's writing.

The Bourne Identity
Dir: Doug Liman
2002
***
Robert Ludlum was and is a celebrated author and it was only a matter of time before one of his Bourne books was made into a feature film. I enjoyed reading The Osterman Weekend but not enough to read any of his other novels. The Jason Bourne books did have a huge following though, so expectations were high. Personally I found Doug Liman's 2002 adaptation overrated. It's a decent enough thriller and I thought Matt Damon was pretty good as Bourne but I didn't think it ever got that exciting. There was no suspense or tension that I believe is essential in a good thriller. Entertaining enough but never outstanding, in fact the only thing I found memorable was the lovely Franka Potente, who I'm ever so slightly in love with.
Monsieur Lazhar
Dir: Philippe Falardeau
2012
*****
Philippe Falardeau's Oscar nominated Monsieur Lazhar is a delicate drama that is both original and heartwarming. For me its the antidote to all the sickly sweet Teacher dramas like Dead Poet Society that I dislike, even though everyone else seems to love. It's never over the top or preachy but always makes valued points and raises intelligent questions. The last scene is so powerful and yet so simple, it's a great example of subtle brilliance and perfect film making. It's also nice to see a film about a male teacher helping a student that isn't actually about something else. I find these days that where there are kids and male adults thing tern sinister and it's a trend I'm glad has been bucked here. It's one of the most touching films of the decade so far and an absolute joy to watch.
The Maltese Falcon
Dir: John Huston
1941
*****
John Huston's classic, The Maltese Falcon, represents a huge turning point in modern Cinema and one that every film made since should be grateful for. It looks sublime, every shot is lit beautifully and in perfect contrast. The performances are immaculate and the script is as fresh now as it was then. There is a real difference in the way characters were portrayed back then and it's still miles better than many films made today. For a debut film, John Huston shows just how talented he really was. An unmissable classic and the birth of film noir.
Treasure Island
Dir: Steve Barron
2012
***
Being a 2 part TV movie and over 3 hours long, the makers of this version of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic had time to tell the story properly, without having to rush or miss anything out, so therefore this seems to be more of a faithful adaptation than the countless versions that have come before. The casting is interesting but it works, it's a whose who of British television at the moment but everyone does a good job - that is apart from the only Hollywood offering Elijah Wood, who it seems was only ever there because of his 'Big name' status. He is pretty awful but thankfully is only in it for about 5 minutes. It's one of the better adaptations of the classic and much better than most things that are usually on the telly.
Carry On Abroad
Dir: Gerald Thomas
1972
****
Carry on Abroad is the 24th Carry on film in the series and the last of the greats according to hard core fans. The story isn't the greatest of the franchise but the idea that all Mediterranean hotels were basically building sites run by con artists serving lousy food was very much the opinion of the day and up until the 90's, most people had stayed in such a hotel. If you want to know about Britain's post-war society in any of the years between 58' and 75', watch a Carry On film. Carry on Abroad is favoured by fans as it represents the last Carry On for Charles Hawtrey and indeed, the last time the gang was all together. The mad-cap climax of the film is brilliant though, you can see that the actors are really enjoying themselves and it really was a great last hurrah for the team.
Elmo Saves Christmas
Dir: Emily Squires
1996
***
Elmo Saves Christmas is probably the best post Jim Henson Sesame Street Christmas special up until that point and probably still the best as everything since has been of a slightly lesser quality. Things have got better in recent years though but the guests aren't as good as they were before, you can't beat the old school Sesame crowd and Jim Henson and still very much missed as is Frank Oz who retired around this time. Still, Christmas isn't the same without the Sesame Street special.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015


Captain America
Dir: Albert Pyun
1990
**
Albert Pyun has become known as the Ed Wood of the 80s and 90's. However, much like Ed Wood I find his films charming and entertaining in their own special way. They're awful, but awfully good fun, the 1990 version of Marvel's Captain America being a good case in point. It is universally accepted that Captain America 1990 is awful, and it really is, but there are elements you have to give it credit for. The Red Skull is pretty cool, even (especially) in his sharp Italian suit and heavy plastic surgery, as his futuristic alias. It stars Otis and Dick Jones (or Vilos Cohaagen depending on what side your bread is buttered), the cult heros; Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox and it's funny. Okay, so unintentionally but the hilarity got me through. Cheesy story-lines might work in the comics but they very rarely work on screen but it's the late 80's/early 90's that is the problem here. Soft focus, electrical rock music, giant shoulder pads...and wonderful tools for any director worth his salt but sometimes it just doesn't work. The fact that the bad guys are a smug looking bunch of yuppies doesn't help either and alas there is no tension and very little excitement to be had. Firmly in 'So bad it's good' territory but you'll only want to watch it once.