Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Wrinkles (Arrugas)
Dir: Ignacio Ferreras
2011
*****
Ignacio Ferreras' beautiful 2011 animation is an adaptation of Paco Roca's comic strip 'Wrinkles' that collects and combines various vignettes written/drawn since its conception in 2007. It is fair to say that Ignacio Ferreras brings the comic strip to life without losing the heart of what made the comic strip so popular in the first place. Ferreras worked on Sylvain Chomet's Oscar nominated The Illusionist and has made a film very much in the same style. While Roca's comic strip will often cause the reader to pause for thought, Ferreras' interpretation and lengthening of the format gives a real resonance to the idea, story and characters as well as their experiences in old age. It is never manipulative or overtly sentimental but I couldn't help but find it deeply emotional. This is not down to melodrama or blackmail either, but rather because it makes it quite clear that old people were once young people and old age is something that most of us will one day experience. The realization that people do treat the elderly differently is saddening but very real and Wrinkles explores the various challenges that older people experience and how they are seen. The film's main characters are Emilio and Miguel. Emilio shows the signs of early Alzheimer's and after the death of his wife, his son feels it best that he goes into a home where he can be better looked after. He ends up sharing a room with Miguel, a young at heart resident who is the only one there by choice. The two men are chalk and cheese but seem to have ended up in the same place anyway. The two men go over their lives and try to make sense of things as well keep Emilio's Alzheimer's a secret from the staff so that he doesn't end up being moved 'upstairs' where the bed ridden go and never return from. The film covers a lot of ground without simplifying anything or anyone, it is both sad and heart-warming and has genuine poignancy but without being predictable or by pleasing the audience just for the sake of it. Indeed, the story doesn't really go anywhere near or where you might expect or perhaps want it to go, such is life and old age itself, but it remains true to story, strip and the people it represents. It's by far one of the best films of 2011 and one of the greatest animations of its kind. No stereotypes, just a beautiful observation from people who understand that you need to be a good listener in order to be a good storyteller.
Scandal
Dir: Michael Caton-Jones
1989
****
Michael Caton-Jones' 1989 drama Scandal is another example of great British cinema that enjoyed a peak in the late 80s, early 90s. These films didn't cause much of a stir and are rarely ever mentioned in film conversation but I've always been a huge fan of them, but alas, I believe their kind will probably never grace cinema screens again, only time will tell. Based on Anthony Summers' Honeytrap, it covers the infamous Profumo Affair that took the UK by storm in early 1963. John Profumo was the Secretary of State for War at the time that he embarked on an affair with a young Christine Keeler. Keeler had been 'discovered', as it were, by Osteopath and Socialite Stephan Ward. He introduced Keeler to all the right people at all the right places, one of her partners also included Captain Yevgeny Ivanov, a Soviet naval attaché, so when Profumo eventually admitted the affair, after initially denying it, it was seen to be a huge security risk with serious repercussions. This sort of sex scandal wasn't the norm in those days, MPs and the establishment were far more careful and the public were far less forgiving. The scandal is credited as the reason the Conservatives lost the 1964 General Election, even though the previous year, a civil servant called John Vassall had been revealed as being a spy for the Soviets. The Vassall affair as it was known did knock the Conservative government, but it was the sordid sex scandal that was the killing blow. It marked the end of one era and the beginning of another. The rise of the gutter media and the idea of becoming famous for sleeping with whatshisname began, with sordid front page kiss and tell stories becoming common place. It took its toll on everyone concerned, with Stephan Ward eventually taking his own life. The film captures the era rather well and gives everyone concerned the right amount of development. John Hurt steals the show as Stephen Ward and the film gives him a very fair and balanced representation. Joanne Whalley is perfect as Christine Keeler from her early days up to her trial and Ian McKellen is brilliant and almost unrecognizable as John Profumo. Support comes from the wonderful Leslie Phillips as Lord Astor, Bridget Fonda as Mandy Rice-Davies - Keeler's friend who claimed to have had an affair with Lord Astor, which is suggested but never portrayed in the film, Britt Ekland as Mariella Novotny and Jeroen Krabbe as Captain Yevgeny Ivanov. Each performance is spot on and on the whole, rather impressive. There is a certain something about the film, an otherworldliness about it that is almost dream-like. I'm not sure about the technicals but I loved the hue of films made in this era. Films of this nature are either really well acted or really good at exploring all the facts, Scandal is a rarity in that it does both.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Notes on Blindness
Dir: James Spinney, Peter Middleton
2016
****
I'm a little bit on the fence when it comes to documentary dramas. Actors lip-syncing to recorded audio tapes made in the early 80s is something that I thought would either work or go horribly wrong. It worked, incredibly well in fact, which surprised me given my general dislike of verbatim theatre. However, even though I love my films, I do prefer John Hull's book Touching the Rock. Hull had had problems with his sight since birth but in 1982 it deteriorated rapidly and total blindness was declared unavoidable by his doctors. Hull, a professor of theology, decided that recording his feelings and the changes he was encountering could be of use to others who would go through the same experience in the future. He also hoped to find the task therapeutic in some way, whether this was the case or not is never really that clear in my opinion but his legacy is undeniable. His book, which is a collection of years’ worth of recordings is wonderful, unique and goes into great detail, much of which is understandably missing in the film given the time constraints you'd expect from a feature film, but there is something wonderful about hearing his actual voice. It's not a 'best of' as such but it is an intelligent selection of the important bits, without anything too whimsical. The facts remain, as do the hugely personal and emotional additions. It's a great film but I would argue that it is a companion piece in many respects and one should always read the book first. I don't feel the film actually brought life to the book or the tapes and in many respects it seems odd that there is a need to visualize a story that is about blindness but as Hull said himself "to gain our full humanity, blind people and sighted people need to see each other" and this docudrama certainly lends its hand to that idea. What I found most profound about Hull's account is his brutal honesty. We learn a little about what he first felt when he lost his sight completely, the film explores the changes in his day to day life that wouldn't be considered by sighted people and we hear first-hand how he eventually came to conquer his blindness. He pretty much invented and developed the audio-book and is an inspiration to both blind and sighted people alike, he carried on teaching, went travelling and showed that it was entirely possible to carry on without sight in the modern world. However, when pondering the question on whether he'd want his sight back after all that he had achieved he declared he would, without question. I liken James Spinney and Peter Middleton's film to Grant Gee's 2012 documentary Patience(After Sebald), although I wish they had adopted the same structure and had been a little more analytical and a little less dreamy but all in all, a monumental achievement.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Citizen ToxieThe Toxic Avenger IV
Dir: Lloyd Kaufman, Michael Herz, Gabriel Friedman
2000
*
The original Toxic Avenger was bad taste but fun. There is nothing wrong with a bit of trash now and again, it sometimes puts cinema into perspective and knocks Hollywood down a notch. It serves a purpose, and when it is genuinely funny and uses satire to its advantage, it can be a beautiful thing. The first Toxic Avenger tapped into the fear of nuclear waste at a time when it was entering into the general public's consciousness, it was trashy but clever. The first sequel wasn't without charm but the third marked the end of the series for me. Eleven years later Citizen Toxie, The Toxic Avenger part IV, was released and I wondered what subject Kaufman and Herz (Troma) would tackle. A lot had changed in the 90s and the possibilities were endless. Also, Troma probably had more money and experience and could therefore produce a far more polished picture. Or so I thought. The truth is that Troma had no new ideas and basically cashed in on the nostalgic Toxic Avenger name. It is still trashy but it goes a step too far this time. For some unknown reason, people with mental issues and learning difficulties are the target of the film's humour, not that it is funny in the slightest. I had hoped that we'd see more gore, exaggerated characters exploring whatever was on trend in the year 2000 but instead it was those who can rarely defend themselves that were the butt of all the jokes. The reason is clear. Troma, Kaufman and team have no idea what substitutes as humour. Learning difficulties, morbid obesity, and rape aren't funny, I know it is Troma's aim to explore the unacceptable but this film doesn't even warrant a guilty laugh. It's nasty, and seeing that so many people accept and indeed enjoy the film, is a sad reflection on society's ideologies. I'm not taking the film too seriously though, it is hardly a cult classic and not really worth writing about but if your sense of humour hasn't progressed since you were seven years old (and that is a huge insult to seven years olds), then it might just be okay for you to watch. The idea of an alternative universe where acceptability is reversed was interesting, an opposite of Toxie (The Noxious Offender or 'Noxie') was a concept with legs, it is just that after all these years of making bad films (and making films about how to make bad films) Troma have learnt nothing and still can't direct/write/edit to save their lives. It's awful, and even die-hard Troma fans know it.
The Toxic Avenger Part III: The Last Temptation of Toxie
Dir: Lloyd Kaufman, Michael Herz
1989
**
Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz's sequel to their original 1984 The Toxic Avenger was so long that it was decided at Troma headquarters that it should be re-edited and made into two separate films. It's safe to say that fans of the original didn't much like the two sequels and each story felt a little muddled. I actually rather liked The Toxic Avenger Part II, I thought it was funny, inventive and the right kind of ridiculous. I can't say the same about The Toxic Avenger Part III: The Last Temptation of Toxie however. It looks as if Part II got all the good cuts and Part III is a collection of whatever was left from the cutting room floor (not that Troma does editing particularly well). The opening scene that involves an attack on a Video Store (which is in turn an attack on the larger Video Store chains taking over the independent stores) was somewhat of a return to form but it went down-hill rapidly thereafter. There are a lot of repeated scenes from the last film and few scenes of any real worth. It picks up a bit when Melvin returns but, rather disappointingly, it is a different actor from the original film (Mark Torgl was offered the chance to reprise the role but declined due to 'pay issues' - presumably, he wasn't prepared to act for free). The big ending which saw Toxie take on Satan himself should have been an epic showdown, and while Satan's entrance is probably still the best special effect Troma have ever performed, it is a huge anti-climax. The first two film push the boundaries of good taste, are gory, full of nudity and are as about as over the top as you can get. They are also hugely inventive. The Toxic Avenger Part III: The Last Temptation of Toxie is boring, has none of what people liked from the first or what made it a cult classic in the first place. It looks exactly like what it is, a combination of scenes that were never intended to go together. I'm all for strange and I like a bit of 'dumb fun' now and again but this is Troma/Kaufman pulling a fast one. Kaufman himself has said he doesn't much care for the film, so I'm not sure how anyone else is supposed to.
The Toxic Avenger Part II
Dir: Lloyd Kaufman, Michael Herz
1989
***
The Toxic Avenger made Troma what is was, Class of Nuke 'em High was a great follow up and an interesting concept as it made the small town of Tromaville into a movie universe full of potential but why go back to Toxie when there were far more interesting avenues to explore? I think the simple answer is that, apart from gaining cult status, The Toxic Avenger was a great sensationalist b-movie name, especially when the world was becoming more and more environmentally conscious. Most fans hate the second Toxic Avenger film but I personally think its miles ahead of the first feature. It starts with one of the best and most outrageous fight scenes ever and ends with one of the best and most outrageous fight scenes ever. The blind jokes still aren't funny and Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz still find it hard to pull themselves away from their sex comedy roots (its shame Toxie's girlfriend Claire has turned into a pornstar) but it is by far one of the most inventive comedy/horrors of the 1980s - and that is really saying something. Toxic narrates the first part of the film, explaining that because he has rid the town of all bad guys, people generally live happier lives and spend most of their days dancing in the street or getting tattoos. However, an evil corporation called Apocalypse Inc. are determined to change all this and set about killing the The Toxic Avenger so they can bring about mayhem to Tromaville once more. They send a smorgasbord of henchmen (think the Village People but gone bad) to the home for the blind where Toxie volunteers and blow it to pieces. Once out of the wreckage, Toxie fights everyone, squashing them in wheelchairs, ripping off their ears and squashing a particularly muscly dwarf into a basketball. It's all rather fun. Toxie is then tricked into going to Japan to find his long lost father and ends up fighting Sumo Wrestlers and a man with a fish for a head. It's bizarre but brilliant. It's still rather gory but with far more humour than the first outing. Kaufman and Herz actually shot about four hours’ worth of film and realized they probably had enough for two films, so what we see in part two is actually only the first half of the story. This is where my problem with the film lies, it is far too long and never knows when to stop. It is rather telling that, after finding success with his comedy tuition series; Make Your Own Damn Movie!, Direct Your Own Damn Movie!, Produce Your Own Damn Movie! and Sell Your Own Damn Movie! he is yet to make Edit Your Own Damn Movie!. All great low budget b-movie horror films that are worth anything have all gained success thanks largely to their editing. Evil Dead is a very simple film, it is the amazing editing that really brought it to life. However, it is hard to resist a b-movie that is as ridiculous and absurd as this. It is hugely entertaining, it just needs a haircut.
The Toxic Avenger
Dir: Lloyd Kaufman, Michael Herz
1984
***
The Toxic Avenger represents the birth of Troma Entertainment, the influx of independent film and the rise of the sex/horror genre. Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz had made only sex comedies until this point but after working long hours on the set of Rocky as a pre-production supervisor, which meant spending an awful long time in a boxing gym, Kaufman decided he wanted to make an 'anti-health club' movie. Around the same time he also read that the horror genre was officially dead and decided he wanted to prove the idea wrong. The combination of both ideas, somehow, became The Toxic Avenger. The story takes place in Tromaville, as do all future Troma films. Boza, Slug and their girlfriends Wanda and Julie spend most of their days either working out at the local Tromaville Healthclub or running over young cyclists in their car and taking photos of their exploded heads. Melvin Ferd, the mop-wielding janitor at Tromaville Healthclub, is the daily but of their jokes, each day bringing a new nasty trick to play on him. When a honey-trap is laid for Melvin (involving a sheep with lipstick and a padded bikini) this go a little bit too far and he ends up jumping out of a window and into a barrel of nuclear waste that just so happens to be on the back of a truck below. Melvin then goes through a peculiar transformation that turns him into a giant green blob of muscle and 'Tromatoms' and he develops an unquenchable thirst for justice. He then goes about ridding Tromaville of its bad guys, generally by killing them in various inventive and gory ways. I'm not against a bit of creative violence but the rather tired sex comedy element of the film became pretty puerile quite quickly. It's a film for 12 year old boys who wouldn't be allowed to see for another six years. If you managed to get hold of a copy before you were 18 you were a king at school but only until people watched it and realized is wasn't that great. It has a lot of charm though, why there are so many blind jokes and men in drag only Kaufman and Herz know, but the overall idea is original and quite funny. It isn't so much a film but rather a collection of interesting scenes, some of which will offend (Patrick Kilpatrick who plays a young thug in the film actually walked off set when asked to point a shotgun at a baby), many will shock (I found the scene whereby a young boy is run over by a car and head bursts to be the most shocking but the most complaints came from the shooting of a guide dog) but most will leave you puzzled (why were there samurai swords on the wall of the Mexican restaurant). I can't quite believe it was turned into a kids cartoon!

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

The Killing$ Of Tony Blair
Dir: Sanne van den Bergh, Greg Ward
2016
****
The Killing$ Of Tony Blair is a crowd-funded film that asked for £50,000 and ended up with £164,000. It is safe to say there are many people around the world that dislike the former British Prime Minister and as the film points out, for very good reason. The film was preaching to the converted as far as I'm concerned but I had hoped it would be accessible to a wider audience and I believe it is. The use of archive footage and the overall structure of the documentary was very good although the initial scene whereby George Galloway knocks on Tony Blair's office and asks to be seen without an appointment wasn't a promising start. There weren't too many surprises as was promised, not for most people I wouldn't have thought, but there were many important reminders and an up to date and comprehensive exploration of Blair's rather negative legacy. To call the film one-sided is ridiculous, its intention is to show the wrong-doings of one man and his team and it does so, almost effortlessly. I think the issue I had with the overall production is that I think it was rushed. It is clear that the film makers wanted to release the film to coincide with the Labour leadership contest, where the 'Blairites' that are still in the party were trying to rid the party of the new (old) progressive left. They failed and I believe they would have failed with or without the release of the film, so I think it would have been better to polish and fine-tune the film a little more, as there are a few problems. I don't hate George Galloway, he speaks a lot of sense but I'm not sure he was the right person to present. Galloway, once sacked from the Labour party by Blair after he stood up to him and protested the war on Iraq, has had his name dragged through the mud somewhat and even though any ideas of revenge would be justified (although this really isn't about that) someone else, anyone else, would have been a little less of a distraction and would have been just that little bit more impartial and would therefore have held the attention of a wider audience. It is this wider audience that the film really should have tried a little harder to get the intention of, the film came and went with very little discussion. However, the cast of talking heads the film can boast is impressive and gives the overall message a great deal of weight. Galloway has a lovely voice but his script is often a bit too poetic for the sake of it, he almost completely lost me when he started churning out bible verses but when it counts his rich rhetoric works a charm. I think they could have delivered more considering the amount of extra money they raised but the message and the key points it wanted the viewers to know and realize were certainly crystal clear. Galloway want to see Blair sent to the Hauge for war crimes, this document is a very clear and convincing case for why he that isn't such a crazy idea.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Green Room
Dir: Jeremy Saulnier
2016
*****
Green Room, much like Jeremy Saulnier's 2013 film Blue Ruin, is impossible to attach to one particular genre and even if you try, it stands out like a sore thumb. I mean that in the best possible way. If you see it as a thriller, then it is one of the most unique thrillers made in the last few years. If you see it as a horror, then it is the most contemporary horror I've seen since Straw Dogs. Either way, it's not like any other film in any genre and I think that's the reason why I really like it. It's completely unpredictable, although I wouldn't say the structure of the story is really anything out of the ordinary. Green Room follows a punk band, travelling around the west coast of America, looking for gigs. After being let down by a promoter, they find themselves playing at an unscheduled venue frequented by neo-nazi skinheads. Realizing that they are playing to the wrong crowd, and in true punk style, they begin their set with a cover of the Dead Kennedy's hit 'Nazi Punks F**k off'. This doesn't go down particularly well but things take a turn for the worst when they witness a murder after playing their set. Neo-nazi skinheads are scary enough, but organised Neo-nazi skinheads are something else. Why bother with ghosts, sharks, monsters or clowns when far-right white supremacists with a taste for loud music and violence is a real thing? Punks vs skinheads sounds like a low budget British hooligan film, and not a good one at that, but there is something captivating about Saulnier's story that I've not seen before. If you know who Neil Kopp is and know and love the films he has produced over the years then maybe you've got a good idea what to expect and will know if you're likely to enjoy it or not. Personally I love it, it is 2016's surprise film, like Bone Tomahawk was to 2015. It will either become a cult hit or will be the blueprint of all modern horror/thrillers. They even get the skinhead/punk thing almost right, which is generally unheard of in film. If intensity isn't your thing and you're not a fan of gore, then surely the idea of Sir Patrick Stewart playing a political leader of a far-right skinhead heroin laboratory will gain your curiosity? I think it's a phenomenal film, not a classic five star film but I just can't fault it. It grabs your attention from the start and doesn't let go until the end credits roll. The sound quality does let it down somewhat, the actors mumble and it's very hard to work out what is being said for a lot of the film but the film's relentlessness more than makes up for it, if you're willing to get on board.
100 Bloody Acres
Dir: Cameron Cairnes, Colin Cairnes
2012
*
The Brothers' Cairnes bring very little to abduction-horror genre, other than another missed opportunity. The film begins with three young persons hitch-hiking their way to a music festival in the south Australian countryside. All three are immediately irritating and each fit into an overused character trait. They are picked up by Reg, who along with his brother Lindsay, own a small blood and bone fertilizer business. No points in guessing where the story goes from there. The sub-genre, particularly in Australia, has been covered time and again and has been done much better. The film is advertised as both a comedy and a horror, which I'm afraid is woefully inaccurate. The few gory scenes aside, it is barely a horror, certainly not the great horror film I think it could have been. It doesn't come close to being funny, so it's certainly not a comedy. The script is what really lets the film down. There aren't any great performances either but I believe at least a couple of the cast members could have done more, had their lines and characters been written a little better. Lindsay, the film's main bad guy, falls very short of what the viewer is led to expect from him. The story could have gone any number of different ways, it was quite astonishing - especially for an independent film with a clearly higher than average budget - when it plodded along the exact route you thought, but hoped it wouldn't go down. If they wanted to do comedy they should have gone full Coen Brothers (maybe they thought they were) or they should have cut the attempts at humour and gone full creepy horror. Either one would have far better than what they ended up with. I honestly can't think of any redeeming feature this film has, other than all the characters I disliked died. Australian horror is much better than this.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Fire at Sea (Fuocoammare)
Dir: Gianfranco Rosi
2016
****
Gianfranco Rosi's free-flowing documentary Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea) takes a look at life on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa which is approximately half way between Italy and Africa in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Lampedusa's population is around 6000 people and the main industry is fishing. It's a popular tourist destination and Rabbit Beach, situated to the south of the island, has been voted the best beach on the planet. However, it is probably better known now as being the primary European entry point for migrants who risk their lives crossing the sea in order to reach what they see as salvation. Rosi captures the day to day life of some of the island's natives as well as the migrants who survive the crossing. Rosi spent well over a year on the island and had hundreds of hours of footage, most of it organic but certainly some of it has been cultivated. The film has no narration whatsoever. This is a little hard to get used to at first. It's never clear whether this is a film about the natives, the migrants or the island in general and it's still unclear by the end. That said, there is plenty to learn about all three and how better to learn than to observe. There were times where I wondered whether some of the footage warranted inclusion, given that Rosi had to reduce 1000 hours into 108 but he does capture moments of magic and utter wonderment, as well as cold, harsh horror. Watching residents request songs from the local radio station in the initial scene gives the viewer an authentic feel of the islands inhabitants - know a person's music and know the person. We then follow Samuele, a young boy who has mastered the art of catapult making. The film follows Samuele on and off throughout the whole film, watching him and a friend find creative ways to relieve their boredom. Refugees aren't seen or heard of until around two-thirds into the film. This reminds the viewers that this island is much more than just a port but on the other hand it does also show the limitations and simplicity of the island. The film really picks up when we are introduced to one of the island's doctors who treats both Samuele and the arriving migrants. He explains to the camera the process of checking each new arrival from a medical perspective and tells of the horrific things he's seen and the difficult procedures his role often involves. He speaks as a troubled man, full of sympathy and memories he'd clearly like to forget. Later in the film, in what is my favourite scene, we see him talk to Samuele about his many ailments and explains that what he's really suffering from, in the sweetest way possible, is in fact hypochondria. As the film develops, we discover that Samuele is an anxious little lad, with a lazy eye and sea-sickness making his expected future as a fisherman a troubling thought for him. Cut to the film's inevitable and horrific chapter of the dead and dying refugees who paid all they had to cross the sea in unsuitable vessels, being lifted from their floating coffins as they're loved-ones look on through tears. The Islanders help each and every person with grace and dignity and it is clear they are haunted by what they see each day. No protests, no anti-refugee banners, just people helping people that need help. Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has said he keeps several copies of the DVD with him at all times, just in case he meets another European leader so he can give them a copy. The whole film is subjective in many respects, Rosi shows real life and real horror without opinion or solution but simply to show it how it is. It is both subtle and detailed in its delivery, very much in the tradition of Italian documentary, at times feeling very much like an early Pasolini film. It is life at sea in more ways than one and an important reminder of what is happening in the world. It's not the sort of thing you will see in the news and media, so credit to Rosi to bringing it to us.
Niagara
Dir: Henry Hathaway
1953
***
There is a lot to enjoy about Henry Hathaway's Niagara but by the time the end credits roll it's clear that it is more a poor man's Hitchcock rather than classic noir-thriller. It was a big hit in 1953, thanks mainly to the star billing of Marilyn Monroe but also because it was in colour - unusual for a film noir. Personally I think it could have looked better in black and white but I don't have any issue with the visuals in the film, far from it. Some of the scenes featuring Niagara Falls itself are quite stunning and it is nice to see footage of the area before it became so commercialized. However, Niagara (and the story) come second to 20th Century Fox's new star, with most of the film dedicated to her. Even though she was the reason for the film's success and why they made so much money, she was still listed as a 'stock' actor and was on a fixed salary, so received very little money - far less than everyone else involved. It certainly made her a star though and in my opinion, she never looked as desirable as she did here. The camera follows her every move, almost to the point of distraction. Jean Peters was an incredibly attractive women, one scene sees her in quite a revealing swimsuit but it was still all about Marilyn. One particular scene in the movie sees Monroe wiggle away from camera down a cobbled road. At 116 feet of film used, the scene has since become famous for being the longest walk ever to appear on film. It's quite shameless really but what can you say, she was a class act and contrary to what I had read about the film, I thought her acting was quite good. It's an average thriller with moments of visual flare and moments of sizzling passion. However, it is almost ruined by Max Showalter. Now I don't want to speak ill of the actor but he is woefully miss-cast in one of the main roles. His constant grinning suited big bawdy comedies and showy musicals but not serious thrillers. It was as if an Abbot and Costello extra from the next studio had wandered onto the set and everyone was too polite to tell him he was in the wrong place. Thing get even worse when Don Wilson and Lurene Tuttle turn up and I don't blame them, it's just that their characters had no place in such a film. It's this poor casting and thoughtless bits of script that make Niagara a good film but not a great one, which is a huge shame. The continuity guy should have been sacked on the spot too but all in all, I did enjoy it for what it was. It's certainly a unique and memorable addition to the genre.
Sweet Sixteen
Dir: Ken Loach
2002
****
Ken Loach's Sweet Sixteen follows a young 'Ned' (Scottish term for a hooligan, lout and petty criminal who usually wear baseball caps, tracksuits and general sportswear) called Liam who lives with his grandfather and abusive boyfriend of his mother. When Liam refuses to sneak drugs into prison for his mother, he is beaten and kicked out of his home. He moves in with older sister Chantelle and her young son. Chantelle escaped her mother’s drug taking and abuse years before and is studying so that she can work in a call centre. Life is bleak for young Liam, he's clearly an intelligent and caring lad with a keen interest in astrology who has never been given direction or a chance in life. Out of revenge and opportunity, Liam decides to steal his would-be step-dad's drug stash and soon catches the eye of a local drug dealer. Liam is approached by the local king-pin and his life suddenly gets serious. He soon makes good money and saves up to buy a caravan for his mother for when she gets out of prison. Liam's story is one of innocents and maturity, he is still very much a fifteen going-on sixteen year old but he has been forced to grow up fast. Like most of Ken Loach's films, the film is matter of fact and never preachy. Liam does wrong and knows he is doing wrong but his situation has forced him into a position. Loach reminds us that many kids his age don't turn to crime but also shows us that many do, especially when they've got nothing left to loose. Liam is a clever boy making decisions someone of his age should never have to make. Although similar to his other films in style and content, Sweet Sixteen could also be seen as an updated version of François Truffaut's The 400 Blows, indeed the very last scene is almost a carbon copy and I suspect a direct tribute. Loach's films are very much an English answer to French new-wave, although unlike the Nouvelle Vague, they haven't run out of steam and are still very much a true social representation of the era they are set. By adopting a realistic approach and using non-actors, Loach, once again, focuses on one person to show a much bigger problem. Ex-professional footballer Martin Compston is perfect in the main role and is an example of Loach's brilliant ability to direct people above everything else.
Carry On Nurse
Dir: Gerald Thomas
1959
***
Carry On Nurse, the second of the Carry On series, is still the franchise's most successful films to date and was the highest-grossing film of 1959 in the UK. It was also popular in the USA, with some cinemas claiming that they played it for three years running. It was a case of director Gerald Thomas and producer Peter Rogers testing the waters after the success of their 1958 film Carry On Sargent. It was based on a small play but the 'Carry On' prefix was added because of the similarities to the first film, not just because of the returning cast members but because it focused on an established profession. National Service and now the NHS, British comedy for British people in two of the most British of environments. The hospital setting also gave the film plenty of opportunities to develop the art of innuendo, something the series would become famous for. Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Kenneth Connor, Bill Owen, Shirley Eaton, Terance Longdon and Hattie Jacques return from the first film. Jacques' role as Matron is now world famous and a character she was brilliant at portraying but I personally loved Joan Sims Carry On debut as a frustrated and bumbling nurse. I have to admit I preferred the later, bawdier hospital based Carry On films but the scene whereby a rectal thermometer is replaced with a daffodil is one of Carry On's greatest moments and quite daring for a 1959 audience. A series was never the intention but after the film's success it was clear that the possibilities were too good to ignore, although it took quite a few films before the right balance was found and it all went terribly wrong towards the end. However, Carry On Nurse captures a quintessential timelessness of British life, humour and attitude that I grew up with and adore. Even though the references are dated, it remains as funny today as it was all those years ago. The performances were all perfect from a collective group of class acts and comedy greats who are still greatly missed.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Love & Friendship
Dir: Whit Stillman
2016
***
Whit Stillman's Love & Friendship is based on Jane Austin's 1794 novel Lady SusanThe book's epistolary style has meant that film makers have largely avoided making adaptations, so it is credit to director Whit Stillman for being the first to bring it to the big screen. For what it's worth, I think he was the perfect director for such a job, following great films such as Metropolitan and Damsels in Distress, he clearly has a passion for such stories and knows how to work them. However, understanding that he needed to change the format of the story, I feel he has lost as much as he has gained. Firstly, I love the structure of the story, it works brilliantly and the unlikely visuals actually work really well, even though they are generally out of place in a period drama. Bizarrely, Stillman has cited Michael Caine and Steve Martin's 1988 comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Frank Oz's remake of Bedtime Story) as his main visual influence. I actually saw the film's cinematographic style as being closer to that of a graphic novel personally, not that Dirty Rotten Scoundrels isn't a good looking film but I have no idea where he is coming from in that statement. Stillman has declared his love for the novel so much so that he has said that he made the film because he believed it should be as well-known as Austin's better known classics, and I don't disagree, I just find it puzzling why he would then choose to name the film after one of Austin's lesser known early works that she wrote as a child. He has also written a novelization of his own film, stating that Austin's book is flawed and unfinished. His version fills in the gaps presumably, an ostentatious arrogance some might say, that spills into the film itself. I have no problem with changes during the adaption process, books are completely different to film - I love them both - but there are limits. I was sad that Sienna Miller left the project and the main role but Kate Beckinsale did a pretty good job and was refreshingly different to what one would expect from such a film/role. She wouldn't have made my top 50 list of possibles but more fool me for overlooking her. Chloë Sevigny on the other hand, as much as I love her, is fairly terrible. The cast really is 50/50 when it comes to quality performance which really does kick the overall film in the teeth somewhat. Also, the unique style that Stillman begins the film with soon disappears and the production loses its momentum very quickly. I can't help but think the ending should have been a little more flamboyant, there should have been a twist of the knife but I felt it was rather anti-climactic. When the film is good it's stunning, but when the film is bad it is utterly boring. Miles ahead of many a period drama and indeed Jane Austin adaptation but it also falls far from what the original story deserved, there is subtle and then there is lethargic.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

The Accountant
Dir: Gavin O'Connor
2016
**
At first, Gavin O'Connor's The Accountant was an unexpected but intriguing mixture of genres but before long it was clear that the mix of ideas just didn't gel and by the end all that was left was a total mess with one of the most underwhelmingly stupid twists I've seen for quite some time. The first real problem is our main character. Ben Affleck plays Christian Wolff, the Accountant of the film's title and an autistic maths genius. He plays the part well and I can't really fault his performance, the problem is Hollywood's age-old misunderstanding of what Asperger syndrome is and how it affects those that have it. In the film, Wolff's father, an Army general, brings up his sons to learn how to fight, take a beating and to never to reply on anyone, because 'real world'. Ben Affleck is basically Batman, Christian Bale's Batman, but with autism and sans rubber suit. He does peoples taxes, when he's not taking down in-house thieves for terrorists and the mob or doing their dirty money laundering for them. He is paid in cash, gold and sometimes famous works of art which he hangs in his secret caravan. It really is a load of Jackson Pollocks. It is an interesting premise at first but it is all utterly unconvincing, even when excepting of Hollywood's most far-fetched of stories. I like a bit of escapism and I applaud originality but I have my limits. Those with autism and asperger syndrome are capably of a lot more than people expect, that really isn't my problem with the film, my problem is the inconsistency and contradictions within Affleck's character.  Throw in an equally unconvincing and frankly, unnecessary love story, a predictable twist that I saw before the end credits had finished and one of the most puzzling sub-plot-acting-as-narrative scripts I have ever (never) seen and what you are left with is a huge 'how' and an even bigger 'why'. HOW? WHY? In trying to decipher both how and why soon came to the conclusion that actually, I didn't really care. The film took the wrong path within fifteen minutes, it was pretty much a right-off from then on. I still like Affleck, I still don't care much for Anna Kendrick, J.K Simmons can still shine in a heap of dirt and I hope Jeffrey Tambor and John Lithgow got paid handsomely for their time. Jon Bernthal came out best in the film, his character had legs and he ran with the role, until the script had all his good work undone that is but still, credit due. 2016's prize for highly anticipated but ridiculously stupid thriller goes to The Accountant, a clear winner.
Ghoulies IV
Dir: Jim Wynorski
1994
*
It is fair to say that none of the Ghoulies films are masterpieces of horror. However, at least you can say of the first three films that they actually have Ghoulies in them. The first film took itself far too seriously as an occult horror. The second was fun but tried a little too hard to be a Spielbergian adventure, while the third film put the fun back into the franchise by taking itself a little less seriously and is probably the most watchable because of it. Ghoulies IV is something else entirely. The character Jonathan Graves (played by a returning Peter Liapis) from the first Ghoulies film is now a police detective, having given up his stint within the satanic priesthood. The film starts off as a very low budget TV police drama, with one-liners and cheesy glances and you wonder what the hell is going on. The film carries on in this vein for some time, I'm sure I wasn't the only person to have picked up the video box after fifteen minutes to check that I had rented the correct film. Soon enough though, a portal is opened and the occult stuff begins to happen. This is where the film really lost me. I quite liked it when it was a terrible cop drama, the horror element ruined it somewhat and the 'Ghoulies' that were eventually released were nothing at all like the Ghoulies of the previous films. Instead, Tony Cox and Arturo Gil emerge in rags and badly fitting masks. They talk to the camera and generally get in the way of the story. They serve no purpose whatsoever, almost like the film makers wanted to make a totally different film but knew that they had to insert some 'Ghoulies' somewhere but they didn't necessarily have to be the same that had been in the previous films. The excuse was that Cinetel Films couldn't afford the puppets of the previous films, which I can sort of believe, but to me that suggests that this is a production aimed at making a past buck and nothing more. There is no passion here, it was made with a complete disregard to the fans, as many films at the end of a horror franchise were. How these production companies thought they could succeed is beyond me, I had no sympathy when they all shut down, good riddance. I like a bad horror movie more than most people but Ghoulies IV is fraud in many respects and deserves nothing but contempt. It makes other bad horror films look bad (or should that be good?).