Sunday, 31 March 2013

My 600th Blog Post

Okay... so that’s 600 posts. Partially because I don’t have much time to do anything else and, partially because I already wrote a painfully honest 3 year anniversary post last week... I figured I’d use this opportunity to go through my blog a bit and pick out eleven of my favourite posts. The ones I’m most proud of so far, for one reason or another. Hope you like. Click on the links to go straight to the reviews...

Attack Of The Crab Monsters - June 2012
This is one of my favourite reviews because it was such a great and hugely incompetent movie to discover. I had a whale of a time watching it and laughing at the unintentionally funny parts (which were pretty much the whole darn movie) and I also had a blast responding in kind when I was reviewing it.

Delicacy (La Delicatesse) - April 2012
This one because it’s a) not the kind of movie I usually write about... b) treats love like it’s for grown ups (which it is) instead of derogatising it and turning it into “just” a series of funny incidents and c) because it seemed to have a good response and, like some of my other posts, a little bit of a life after the initial posting.

Doc Savage: The Desert Demons - January 2012
I picked out this review, not because of my actual verdict on the novel (which was the least rave review I’ve given to any of Will Murray’s brilliant Doc Savage continuations) but because it’s one of a few early snapshots of myself as a kid captured in this blog which gives the people who I personally know, and who might read my blog, a little more background into me as a human being.

My 300th Blog Post - Faces Of Caroline Munro - August 2011
This will probably always be my favourite post (and also one of my most popular in terms of hits) because the great Caroline Munro herself mentioned how much she liked it at the time on her website. When I presented her with a larger, canvas print of it when she was doing a signing, some months later, she seemed thrilled to bits and it put a smile on my face for a very long time.

Haunting Of Winchester House 3D - February 2011
My most scathing review of one of the worst movies I’ve ever had the mispleasure to watch. This is really not “bad in a good way” either... but it is probably the most “fun poking” I’ve done on this blog.

Black Belt Jones - August 2010
I liked this one... partially because it was Jim Kelly doing his thing but mostly because I really liked the little Jim Kelly with nunchucks picture I cam up with to illustrate it.

The Final Programme - August 2010
Because it’s a film I've absolutely loved since I was a teenager (even though most people haven’t even heard of it) and because one of my writing heroes, Michael Moorcock, was at the screening I reviewed. So it’s a nice little virtual memento for me to look back on.

My 100th Blog post - July 2010
This comic strip on the birth of my blog and how much writing and promoting it meant to me was also a sly tribute to the, then recently, deceased Harvey Pekar. It meant a lot to me at the time and, well, who doesn’t want to see a picture of me naked? :-)

Claire Dolan - June 2010
Because it reminded me how poorly off we are after the tragic, early death of Katrin Cartlidge and made me cry.

Fellini Vs Fosse: When Cabiria Meets Charity - June 2010
This comparison piece between my favourite Fellini movie Nights Of Cabiria and the American musical remake, Sweet Charity, is something I was quite proud of at the time. I’ll always prefer the Fellini but I actually like both takes on the story. It just seemed like a good idea to pit them against each other in an exploration of their intent at the time.

Giallo Fever - June 2010
My defence of the Italian giallo movies as an artform in their own right, and not something to be merely “derogatised” as something reminiscent of the trashy American teenage slasher movies which were informed and influenced by them, is something I wish more reviewers of exploitation movies would read. Art is art... don’t try to defend it with wishy-washy excuses... defend it because it’s a more than valid genre in its own right!

And that’s 600 posts done. I hope you enjoyed my little trip down my recent memory lane and maybe even clicked on one or two of the links to see what an earth I was going on about. Either way, thanks very much for reading. More reviews to follow soon and it’s back to business as usual.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Doctor Who - The Bells Of St. John

Run For Your WiFi

Doctor Who - The Bells Of St. John
Airdate: 30th March 2013. UK. BBC1

Warning: Some spoilers here, methinks

And here we are again... a mid season start up, well, continuation of the new series of Doctor Who which is, I believe, the only modern incarnation of the show to have a season split by a Christmas special (reviewed by me previously here). Once again, Moffat’s set up for a new companion is off to a flying start... well partial set up, really, being as he kind of already set the companion up twice already.

Show get s a great little “plead for help” pre-credits sequence with a montage depicting the dangers of wi-fi signal in modern London and, after the new credits sequence which started up the last episode, we get straight into the silly but brilliant pun of the title, which leads one to expect the TARDIS cloister bell but which, actually, is the externally accessible telephone on the police box... ringing in a call across the centuries from the very person that The Doctor has been searching for throughout time and space since the Christmas special - Clara “Oswald” Oswin... who doesn’t know him at all, by the way because... well, because she’s already died twice, right? Why would she? 

So anyway, couple of details so far after we’re ten or fifteen minutes in which may be two things which come back to bite everyone in the backside (in a good way) later in the show or, maybe possibly, just one thing to haunt us with the other being just... a nice detail. 

Detail number one, which may or may not be important, is the fact that the childhood book that Clara has leant the child she is minding is written by Amelia Williams. Well then... that’d be by Amy Pond writing the old book from the time in which she got stranded and finally taken on the surname of her husband Rory Williams then. It may or may not give credence to @sdunlop’s theory that the new companion is in some way related to the Ponds. Personally, I suspect it’s just a nice little detail to give the series some continuity but... well with Moffat you never know, do you?

Detail number two which obviously is something which will need to come back and be answered is... who the hell gave Clara the Doctor’s phone number so she was able to call him for help from the 21st century while he was having a rest in the 13th century. Now the two main contenders on this are either, I would think, River Song or, possibly, Rose Tyler. However, I suspect Jackie Tyler might also be an option but... well, I’m not going to play these guessing games anymore... we shall see when we shall see.

Okay so... we get to meet the spoonheads in this one and... they’re kinda okay as new monsters go. I’m a bit alarmed that they can double for practically anybody because, well... that means the previous two Clara’s could have been either a spoonhead (Victorian times) or a download (Dalek)... so it’s kinda boring if these threats have been written in to provide the main protagonists with a convenient get out later on down the line... and, yes, I’m thinking very specifically about the fake Doctor’s death at the start/end of the last series. That was all a bit of a cheat if you ask me.

Now then, you may find some similarities, again, with the opening set up to the cyberman/dalek crossover from the Tennant days... and, truth be told, you’d be right. However, the premise just about veers off into its own thing at just the right time to make this a fairly enjoyable, perhaps even touching adventure in which to let The Doctor and the new incarnation of his companion meet properly. Although I have to say... it does look like Clara Oswald has been programmed with key phrases that come out in each version of her The Doctor meets.

Nice enough story though. The Doctor drives his bike up the side of The Shard in much the way a car is driven up the side of a large building in the movie version of Daywatch and that makes for a neatish little piece of frippery we’ve not seen in the show before. The performances were all fine too and we even had the return of Richard E. Grant as the modern day version of The Great Intelligence... turning up a fair few episodes earlier than I thought actually but it all serves as a reminder that he’s coming back I suspect... hopefully with the Yeti not far behind him, one would hope (well, this one would hope so anyway). 

Nice bit of scoring, too, with some fast action cue’s building on a variation of the Eleventh Doctor sub theme... hopefully some of those will make it on to the album when Silva Screen get around to releasing it. 

All in all then... a fun, if lightweight, adventure which is probably the third best of the season so far (lagging slightly behind the previous two Oswin episodes is my estimation). Should be a crowd/fan pleaser and Moffat even gets a chance to make fun of Twitter... but in such a way that he uses it to push a story point. So clever him and lets hope the series continues in this vein after what I saw as a mostly disastrous first half. The trailer for next week's one looks like a bit of tosh but, you know, trailers are not always good advertisements for the main product. Again... we shall see what she will see.

So all that’s left for me to do now is to put my feet up and start speculating in the way that Moffat likes us to... so he can see if he can outwit us before revealing his real end game. So maybe my speculation will go something like this (and I quote my own twitter feed from this morning here)...

“Anyone else here thing Oswald Oswin is going to be the Doctor's 12th incarnation? Been thinking about it... when you put her initials...”

“...together you get the sign for "infinity". They need to get the old 12 lives rule out of the way now. What better way than to merge...”

“... with a human host for your next generation and go on forever... to oo or ∞ (infinity) and beyond! Or am I just being fanciful?”

I think the real question here is, though, why do I care? Que sera sera.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Female Vampire

When in Romay...

Female Vampire
1973 France/Belgium
Directed by Jess Franco
Redemption BluRay Region A/B/C

This is one of those eurocinema films you see when you’re young and the imagery stays with you for years... although it’s not exactly the greatest movie ever made. This was one of Lina Romay’s earlier films with the director and of the 120 movies she made before her death last year, the majority of them were made for her lover Franco... taking up “muse duty” after the tragic death of Franco’s equally famous figure of inspiration, Soledad Miranda (perhaps best known for the starring role in two of his movies in particular, Vampyros Lesbos and She Kills In Ecstacy). That Romay was a self confessed exhibitionist meant a match made in heaven for her and Franco and the images of her walking around this film and coming towards the screen out of the fog wearing just a hooded cloak (which manages to reveal everything about her) and a black belt will probably stick in the minds of most red blooded young men who come into contact with this film at an early age.

As a horror film it’s not much good, truth be told, but as a softcore exploitation movie with little dialogue designed to inflame the lusts of all those with a vampire fetish... well it does pretty well on that count (or countess).

The story, such as it is, tells the tale of Countess Karlstein, a mute vampire who sustains her life by giving fellatio or cunnilingus to her sexed up victims (depending on whether she happens to be sexing up a man or a woman, obviously) and then sucking the life force out of them from their respective “naughty bits” when they reach orgasm - a much shorter, toned down version with people wearing clothing and where the Countess gets her vampiric fix by sucking blood from more traditional, self made orifices, was released in some countries as the inappropriately titled, given its highly censored nature, Erotikill.

The film is very much like the more classic Vampyros Lesbos in many ways, but there’s a lot less going on here and, while this makes use of references to Karlstein’s family (which was probably as close as they could get the more famous vampiric name of Karnstein without having copyright issues, is my guess) and even has references to Franco’s earlier Dr. Orloff movie, this doesn’t share the same kind of substance as Vampyros Lesbos, which could easily pass for a not bad parody of Bram Stoker’s Dracula book (or stage version for that matter).

Still, the film is quite hypnotic and not just for the fact that most of the running time is taken up with female nudity, sex and a touch of badly restored S & M (with still material missing from the original shooting, I suspect, as Romay’s character is pre-wounded before we get to the main body of those scenes). Although I imagine the budget for this movie wasn’t what Franco would have wanted, it seems that the inspiration behind some of the shot designs are every bit as thoughtful as some of his other classic works. It’s just that there are vague distractions when a hand held camera is used, for instance, when you suspect the director would rather have used a proper tracking shot for certain sequences. Still, you can still make out the intentions behind the shots and a lot of it is very good.

You also have present Franco himself, as a kind of light weight/minor inconvenience Van Helsing type character, and it’s far from unusual for Franco to save money on his productions by casting himself. One story tells of him shooting himself in close up on a shot for a movie once while operating the camera himself (reaching around it) at the same time.

The presence of cult genre actors Luis Barboo (The Case Of The Scorpion’s Tale, The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein, The Wind And The Lion and Conan The Barbarian etc.) and Jack Taylor (Dr. Jekyll y el Hombre Lobo, The Ghost Galleon and Tender and Perverse Emmanuelle etc) make for another tick box for lovers of this kind of movie too... each of them turning in serious performances for a less than serious movie.

The scoring is pretty decent, although Daniel White’s music is less funky than some of the stuff you might equate with this director. There really does need to be a proper soundtrack CD of this score sometime... it’s really quite infectious and captivating.

So... a brilliant movie of little consequence, although I have to say that the Redemption BluRay I have here surprised me a little in that something seems amiss in terms of quality. I can’t work out if it’s the original source print that the BluRay has been mastered from that’s just absolutely crap in places (especially the opening sequence of Romay emerging from the fog in a forest) or if it’s the actual transfer that’s at fault and, while I’m pleased to have this version and it’s extras, I have older films which look a whole lot better than this on my BluRay and so I did wonder if I’d have been better not purchasing and sticking to my old Region 1 DVD edition from Image Entertainment. I’m fairly new to BluRay so maybe I should start being a bit more discerning when it comes to trusting who is doing what and from which available materials they are doing their “what” with in future.

Anyway, this doesn’t effect the slow burn, cumulative quality of the film any and, if you’re a fan of gratuitous nudity and beautiful women with a touch of somewhat pretentious vampiric angst thrown into the mix and some fairly questionable acting from Lina Romay on this one, then you’re probably going to be able to watch this movie on its own terms for what it is. For novices into the world of Jess Franco, too, I would say this is worth a look, although it’s not quite in the league of such works as Vampyros Lesbos, She Killed In Ecstacy and Countess Perverse (reviewed here). The iconic imagery, however, should pull you in a bit and make you seek out some of this man’s other works. If you do that, let me know what you think.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Live And Let Die

Assault and Pepper

Live And Let Die
1973 UK
Directed by Guy Hamilton
EON Blu Ray Region A/B/C

Okay. So let me just go on record here as saying that Roger Moore’s version of Bond in the seven films he made in the series is, along with Daniel Craig, one of my least favourite portrayals of Bond on film ever. He was just, for the most part, a much softer character than I want to see as Bond and that’s all there is to it. It’s not his fault because the character is still quite tough and raw here... I think it’s much more to do with the writing than anything else. By the time he did his third one, The Spy Who Loved Me, it was almost like the character had suffered a complete sea change since the days of Connery and Lazenby and, although there are still a few good things on show in the majority of his movies for EON... I don’t really expect to be giving many of his movies a good review here, truth be told.

That being said, Guy Hamilton’s Live And Let Die will always hold a little place of affection in my heart, and not just because it was the first Bond film I saw at the cinema, at the age of five (followed by a load of screenings of Connery double bills... see my first Bond review for Skyfall here for the full story). The fact is, Live And Let Die, while somewhat different in tone from the previous Bond movies, is actually a great little movie and definitely Moore’s best in the role. A curious mix of blaxploitation movie (which were hitting big at the time) and action-loaded stunt fest, Live And Let Die has a lot going for it.

It also carries on and tries to solve one of those great continuity errors arising from the choice of shooting the novels out of order (as I mentioned in my Dr. No review here). In fact, in that review I said...

“The character of Quarrel, the guide who takes Bond to Crab Quay, was already a recurring character in the books, having played a big part in an earlier book, Live And Let Die. Dr. No is Bond’s second encounter with the character and, in both the book and the film versions, he is burnt to death by the bad guys. However... this obviously left the filmmakers with a slight (it’s a question of taste and respect) problem when it came time to shoot Live And Let Die a decade later. How did they solve that little problem? Well, wait until I review Live And Let Die and I’ll tell you.”

So yeah. This is where I tell you, I guess. In the movie version of Live And Let Die, which obviously in movieland takes place after the events of Dr. No (but way before in the chronology of the books), Bond enlists the aid of Quarrel Jr, the son of the character he encounters in the first movie... although the age difference between father and son and the timeline of the movies makes absolutely no sense. Of course, the bond movies exist in a very surreal timeline and none of the continuity between films makes a heck of a lot of sense anyway, to be honest... Skyfall being one of the worst offenders for that sort of thing in years.

In fact, the film has quite a few quirky facts and figures going for it. A few of those many curios I’ll list here.

Firstly, Live And Let Die features the comical (to the point of irritating, but not when you are a five year old as I was the first time I saw it) antics of Clifton James as the “much imitated in popular culture” Sheriff Pepper... a character who proved to be so popular that he was brought back for the next film in the series, The Man With The Golden Gun.

It also stars David Hedison (who was billed as Al Hedison back when he played the title character in the original version of The Fly) as Felix Leiter. He would go on to reprise the role years later opposite Timothy Dalton’s excellent Bond portrayal in the not-so-great movie License To Kill (a complete failure of a movie and a bit of a franchise killer... or so I’d assumed at the time). Now Hedison was the only actor to play Felix Leiter twice... up until decades later when Jeffrey Wright would also play the character twice opposite Daniel Craig in both Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace. 

More interestingly, though, in terms of both the Felix Leiter character in the books and Hedison’s portrayal of him, is that lots of the source novel for Live And Let Die was not used for the movie version. However, two of the scenes from the book were taken pretty much in tact in terms of emotional intent for two later movies in the series... the boat drag sequence in For Your Eyes Only and also the Felix Leiter “he disagreed with something that ate him” sequence in License To Kill. In the novel of Live And Let Die, Felix Leiter is half eaten by sharks and left for dead... and it was only the second book in the series, following on from Casino Royale! However, the character then starts appearing regularly in the books, with a hook for an arm and fake leg etc. This is the version of Felix, ex-CIA due to his grizzly experience and now working for Pinkertons, who is the regularly appearing character... not the version often portrayed in the movies. It’s therefore quite proper that Hedison, who is great in the role anyway, was called back in to play Felix in another sequence inspired from the original novel’s source for the first movie he played the role in. One of those pleasing bits of serendipitous film history moments which bring a smile with them.

Another interesting bit of casting for the film is the lovely Jane Seymour who plays the fortune teller Solitaire, in the employ of Yaphet Koto’s lead villain. This part had already been signed to actress Gayle Hunnicut, who had to bail on the job due to pregnancy. Something quite bad about this character, however, is that she uses a deck of tarot cards adorned with a snazzy design based on the numbers “007”. What the “bloopity bloop” is that all about? Seriously?

This is also the first film in the sequence not to feature Q. This character had been in it since his first appearance under the character’s actual name, Major Boothroyd, in the first EON production, Dr. No. When the character reappeared in the next film in the sequence, From Russia With Love, Desmond Llewellyn took up the reins and played him in pretty much every film until his death... excluding this one. He would have to wait until the next movie in the series before he could start to develop some on-screen chemistry with Moore’s Bond.

Another first is it’s the first in the sequence not to have ay music composed or arranged by John Barry in it. “Fifth Beatle” George Martin toook on scoring duties on this one (maybe a natural choice after Paul McCartney wrote such a blistering, cool opening title song) and it’s certainly one of the better non-Barry scores in the series.

And that’s about it for this one. Live And Let Die is a fiercely enjoyable action romp... but with not too much of a cold war/spy feel to it. It’s always a laugh and a pleasure to watch and, if you can divorce Roger Moore in your mind from the character he’s supposed to be playing, then his performance is also very watchable. Easily my favourite of the Moore Bonds but I should probably warn you now though that, if you’ve been reading my Bond reviews in chronological order, you may find they get quite a lot shorter and more cursory through the tenure of the Moore films as I just don’t rate them all that much against most of the other movies in the series. If you want to see an entertaining Bond movie with Roger Moore in it, however... pick this one.

EON James Bond Movie Reviews on NUTS4R2

Saturday, 23 March 2013


Stripping Yarns

USA 2012
Directed by Craig Zobel
Playing at cinemas now.

Warning: This review reveals things right from the outset that some people are going to feel are big spoilers.

Compliance is a film I might not have seen had it not been for the fantastic young lady who picked it out as our cinema viewing this week. As it turns out, I was pretty happy with the choice and the style of film-making on display but it’s certainly not going to be everyone’s cup of tea... including, as it happens, my multiplex companion who chose it from the array of movies on Cineworld’s website.

It's a movie which pulls you into a situation using a clever array of shot types and edits which are skillfully used to set up mini chapters and highlight certain moments for the viewer. It pretty much has no story and almost everything that happens in the film is either present or implied in the trailer. The film is all set during one night in a “Chickwich” fast food “restaurant” and tells of a group of people who are prank called and become complicit through that very long phone call, to the will of somebody pretending to be a police officer and who gets some of the employees in the restaurant to strip-search a young girl and enforce humiliating and provocative sexual acts on her before it is realised, after what must be many hours, that they have become accessories to a sexual crime.

The film is based on true events and it’s all geared up to get you to ask questions about how far these people go, why do they fall in line with an authority figure rather then start to question, a hell of a lot earlier, the things they are being told to do... and where is it that the point comes between being a victim and being an antagonist.

The male character who is called in to the restaurant to spank and then receive a highly charged sexual act from the true, young, female victim of this crime is a problem issue. He comes off in the general public’s mind, in the movie, as kind of a rapist... but the pressure he is under to assist in something which he ultimately knows must be wrong, and the fact that he has already been drinking away some of the night and is ever so slightly impaired in his thinking because of this, muddies the issue somewhat and also gives you a sense of him being as much of a victim as some of the other people in this drama.

Again, it’s all about being aware of the gravity of events and actions and being able to determine, for yourself as an individual, where such lines are crossed. And the thing about that is... everybody is different. Everybody is adhering to their own variation and spin offs an objective value system which, frankly, is never ever going to be perceived at anything other than a subjective level, and this plays into the rationale behind the events depicted in the film and certainly gives you something to talk about after the lights go up.

The performances, as you would expect with this kind of movie, are absolutely flawless and brilliant. It’s the kind of ensemble piece that independently produced US films do so well and the acting talent is helped considerably by the way the movie is shot, edited and lit. This is a piece which is designed to make you feel uncomfortable and, from what I could see of the audience and their nervous laughter in some scenes, this seems to have worked well... I think my own problem with this is I am so jaded and aware of the tricks the director is going to use to produce this kind of effect, after years of movies, that it becomes a little blunted on me to a certain extent.

Starting off with some shortish, completely static shots edited together to build up a series of establishing shots (rather than go for the obvious, long master shot to open chapters), this builds up a certain tension within the audience because the viewer is conditioned to experience release on those kinds of long shots and this film deliberately doesn’t have very many of them. It’s intense and claustrophobic and this isn’t just because the action takes place in just a couple of rooms for the most part. It’s because the director slyly shies away from allowing much of a release from the medium and close up shots throughout the course of the movie. In fact, from the moment I first saw those opening, static shots cut together, I thought of Sergei Eisenstein and his theory of the way you edit films, from his stance back in the early part of the 20th Century at the dawn of cinema, and they are kinda put together like something you might see in one of his early, Soviet propaganda works in some ways. Also, these shot sequences are very much like the quick-edit transition sequences of the early works of Darren Aronofsky... although a fair bit slower, actually, and without the heavy sound/musical punctuation.

The shots in between these little set ups are a lot longer and rely a lot on hand held, slightly moving camera to create a sense of cinema-verite which is another neat trick because, when the film gets to a place where the director really wants to highlight a point... he’ll either stop the camera dead which goes directly into the subconscious as a cinematic punctuation mark, or zoom or cut to a tighter version of that shot to lend an emphasis to it (a technique which has almost been done to death in various well-shot US science-fiction TV shows over the last ten years).

There’s also an interesting choice of shots along the way which, despite the implied documentary leanings of the “camera as recorder” set up, show an underlying sense of artistic expression which all makes for a fairly effective cocktail of styles. The enforced fellatio scene, for example, is technically off shot and implied by the tell tale signs of stress implicit in performing such acts in a non-consensual environment... and as a result, the audience naturally fill in the blanks with their own imagination and it becomes a little more raw and shocking than it would have been if the director had just recorded the graphic act on film.

There’s also a surprising sense of humour present in occasional scenes which are less implicit, but still there... such as one of the waitresses paraphrasing an obvious line of dialogue from Kevin Smith’s Clerks which made me stifle a giggle (stifle because it seemed to somehow bypass the rest of the audience, who presumably didn’t pick up on it). Although this slight underlying humour, which to be fair is very minimal, does nothing to detract from the fact that there are very few truly sympathetic characters in the mix... everybody seems to be carrying around a little piece of damage which  makes for less of a connection with many of the characters involved.

The sound design and use of music is also quite intense and ultimately brilliant. The score is very quiet and subtle in most sequences. Bearing in mind the “camera-eye” style of filming, I was surprised the director chose to have any music in there at all, but it’s actually very effective and for the most part lurks within the subconscious before being allowed to overpower the soundtrack in some key moments. It perfectly matches the visuals and the rest of the foley and makes for an enthralling combination.

So yeah, I guess my verdict is in on this one. Compliance is a somewhat challenging but extremely well made piece of cinema, which perhaps doesn’t get as raw or confrontational as it could, but delivers a highly competent and classic cinematic approach to subject manner which many would not find to their taste. If you’re a fan of the motion picture as art, you will probably appreciate the level of craftsmanship in this film... although it’s not the most entertaining piece of drama out there. Cineastes will certainly enjoy the taste and restraint shown in this one while people who are not used to this kind of approach to a subject may find themselves less than enamoured of it.

One thing I do know for sure... while I was okay with the movie in general... it’s certainly not the best “date movie”.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

3 Year Anniversary

Beware Of The Blog 

Beware of The Blog, 
It creeps, and leaps and glides and slides
Into your brain,
And then, it starts, to do it all again,
A fog, a dog
Be careful of The Blog.
With apologies to Mack David and Burt Bacharach

That is to say... I can’t believe I’ve managed to find the personal discipline to regularly update this thing for three years now without giving up on it... although I really did come close a couple of times. However, that was because I was having trouble with outside forces and so I didn’t feel I could write anything other than bile and depression at those times. I find it interesting that it’s something I keep coming back to no matter what... and it’s a double edged sword too.

I am seeing far less movies than anyone who loves film as much as I do should have to put up with these days because I end up spending most of the time writing about what I’ve just seen. At the same time, though, if it’s been a few days passed by without me writing anything for it, it becomes my obsession and, also, my curse... as I get withdrawal from this strange behaviour of sitting on my bed, at my laptop, figuring out things to write.

I’ve not done too badly out of that though.

I am now happy to consider myself a writer (of some sort), in that... with almost 600 posts, most of them fairly longish reviews, I have probably written enough wordage to fill at least two goodly sized novels. I often wonder, in fact, why I don’t go ahead and get back to the novel I started writing decades ago... I’m still interested in it and chomping at the bit to get back on it one of these days... I loved the slightly surreal place it was going and still remain interested in knowing what’s really going to happen to the characters in there...

But, of course, if I started back in on my novel, I’d have no time to write movie reviews on this blog and that would just be a bad move for me right now. Maybe if I didn’t have a full-time job which I struggle with to pay some of the bills then I’d probably consider doing both... but as it happens I get barely a couple of hours a night, if that, to work on it right now... so something has to lose out. Right now it’s the novel. And the scripts. And the short stories I started writing about a UFO “Disinformation Man”... it’s all on a back burner.

That’s because I love this blog and it’s taught me that I do have the will power to see it through... not to mention it’s kinda fun to be writing about films... even if some of those reviews aren’t always that favourable.

And I’ve been happy to discover along the way that there’s no such thing as writer’s block... a condition I wrote a short, metaphorical screenplay about once. I’ve often thought about the film I’m supposed to be reviewing later and realised I have absolutely nothing to say about it... but then it gets kinda strange and, maybe, even mystical. I sit there looking at the blank page waiting for me in QuarkXpress and then just start typing. I may not have known what I was going to write before I sat down, sometimes, but as soon as I start typing I suddenly discover the right words finding themselves and, more often than not, they’ve got something at least remotely interesting to say about the subject and this has happened every time, so far, when I’m due to meet a self-imposed deadline that... I just don’t really believe that “blocks” are anything other than a symptom of self-delusion when you want to go and do something else.

And maybe that’s my good fortune. 8 times out of 10 I really don’t want to be doing anything else other than writing about a movie and sometimes... well... sometimes I learn things about my response I didn’t initially realise was there.

A case in point was a film I saw back in 2011 called Attack The Block. When I sat down to write the piece I was convinced I hadn’t had a great time at the cinema and that it was going to get a bad review. But as I started writing about it, I realised I was actually using that writing as part of my thought process... and as I went on and realised that there were little subtleties about the movie I’d not considered when sitting in front of it at the cinema... my appreciation of my initial memories of the film grew as I wrote and analysed it more and more. I ended up giving it a pretty okay write up in actual fact, although it was far from what I’d set out to say. I also bought the DVD and really enjoyed it quite a hell of a lot the second time I watched it... so my writing about my experience at the cinema taught me something and, I guess, properly clarified my thoughts during the short gestation time from watching the movie to getting home, firing up the laptop and writing about it. So that was kinda interesting and something I learned from a little bit, I think.

Now my life is changing ever so slightly again at the minute because, at the time of writing, I seem to be going out one or two nights a week on, well... I guess they’re kind of “dates” with a girl I’ve seen around on my morning bus for a couple of decades but only just started speaking to. So I’m finding my blogging time slightly impaired by all this (that’s okay... I’m pretty sure she’s well worth it) so I have to say that you may find that this blog might be a little less frequent and drop to only two or, maybe, three posts a week instead of me going at the writing like some kind of “get a life” blog machine... so apologies for that but don’t worry, I will still be here and I will still be writing about films regularly on this blog. All kinds of films. Whenever possible. There’s also a project which I need to get started on soon for someone else I’ve known on twitter a while because of this blog.. so that will eat up some time too, of course.

Rest assured though, if you’re a regular reader, I will be doing my best to “watch and review” as much as I can. I may be busy but I haven’t had a complete personality change and, if you haven’t already figured it out by now, this blog/review site really means a lot to me and I’m honoured that so many of you come here month after month to read the odd review (the odder the review the better say I). So thanks to all of you reading this post now... it’s kinda heart warming actually.

And that’s all I’ve got to say today really, as my blog writing is now three years old... except maybe to say one thing which supports one of the observations I made to myself earlier in the post. I had absolutely no idea what I was going to write for my blog’s three year anniversary before I sat down a little while ago and started tapping away at the keys. But here we are again and I filled two pages of A4 Quark up with my reaction to that dilemma. So if you’ve made it this far to the end of this post, I want to say a special thank you to you now... because by reading this you’re one of the people that makes me feel that this thing is worth carrying on with.

So thank you kindly.

And please come back and read again sometime.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Ultimate Zombie Feast

No Mean Feast

Ultimate Zombie Feast
Directed by Various
Monster DVD Region 0

I’d forgotten I’d bought this collection on its release, at the tale end of last year, specifically so I could review it on this blog. My reacquaintance with the short form, low budget arm of the arts is slowly getting reappraised the more I see. However, as you’d expect, this collection is a little hit and miss, both on professional production values and on entertainment. Touted on the back of the DVD as “more than five hours of outstanding new zombie films from around the world”, this compilation of low budget celebrations of the undead certainly didn’t fail to keep me engaged, in places... but if this is really the cream of the crop in terms of the use of the word “outstanding”... then there must be some really dire films being made out of there. Which is probably true because I understand that zombie movies are the easiest and cheapest kinds of movies to make... so everyone and their lifeless zombie ghoul of a dog is out shooting them.

Here then, are my quick little capsule reviews of the 16 films, spread across the two discs of this release.

This one takes the same kind of tone as two thirds of the shorts on this disc... in that it’s playing the genre for laughs. It’s slickly shot, however, with lovely colours and a post credits blink and you'll miss it reference to Kurosawa's Yojimbo, so the director scored a point with me for that. Inconsequential, like many on this disc, but fun. There is, though, a terribly flawed sense of logic when it comes to the origins of the zombie outbreak and, as almost all feature films made in this sub-genre, the majority of the rest of the movies after this don’t even try to explain the causes.

Zombies and Cigarettes
A fast paced Spanish action zombie flick which homages George A. Romero in at least as much as it’s set in a shopping mall. There’s a real understanding of how the language of cinema can best be used and it’s especially noticeable in a neat moment which pitches one extreme of sound against dead calm. Annoying, badly translated subtitles don’t do this movie any favours though. Would have thought the DVD company would have taken care of that for them.

This is the first serious movie without any humour in the collection. Impressive use of shot design and editing combined to make a few people seem like hordes of zombies and, simple as the solutions used are, it’s something a lot of the other movies here could have learned from. It also takes time to build up the main protagonist as a character for you to invest in, which is a bit of a plus.

This is a five minute character study of a woman who has survived an unseen zombie attack, but who has been bitten. Our camera eye observes her as she tries to come to terms with the fact that she is turning, little by little, into a zombie. Fairly intense if you can get past some of the make up choices and over the top acting moments.

Not the best on the compilation. Set in a factory, it's a straight "bug hunt" of a movie once the zombie virus hits. Some of the acting is okay though but the wig worn by the Jason Mewes clone in one scene in this is laughable.

Not Even Death
This is a quickie character study of a man keeping his zombie wife chained in the basement. Slightly marred by the fact that the blurb in the introduction promised some kind of twist at the end when there actually wasn't one. The actress playing the wife was pretty good though.

Fear Of The Living Dead
This one has a sense of narrative and closure, courtesy of a twist ending which, unfortunately for me, I thought was pretty easy to see coming. One mistake this has though is to show deserted streets (aka the standard last man on earth scenarios) but they're all neat and tidy  locations with no zombie mayhem set-dressing on them... so when you do see the zombies hit the streets, it all looks kinda clean and incongruous. A nice enough diversion, however.

Possibly the best film on this first disc, Kidz is the tale of three MTV generation/video game playing children who are orphaned by the zombie apocalypse and immediately leap into action, handling all the survival stuff with ease, where adults just get things all wrong. This one doesn’t have so much as a twist ending as a nice little flourish which normally wouldn’t work, but does here... It actually crept up on me without me guessing what it would be. Definitely worth a look.

The Book Of The Dead
The longest film in the selection. It's also the one which drags the most. While a couple of the performers are good it tries hard to deliver more of a story arc but ultimately the knowing references to other films (“Zed's dead baby!”) are not particularly subtle enough and the fact that none of the jokes really work, combined with an irritating opening title sequence which just drags on forever, makes this not just the longest film on offer here, but also the weakest.

Zombie Harvest
The second disc doesn't start off as strongly as I'd hoped, although the opening titles, an homage (or steal of sorts) from the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet is nice enough and the "head up a cow’s backside" gag is obvious but still quite surprising. There's no real story arc on this, just the beginning of a zombie outbreak played for laughs. Competent but not as entertaining as I'd been expecting.

The Skin Of Your Teeth
This one's okay, less for the zombie effects (which are kinda secondary anyway) and more for the sense of the characters as rural survivors, honestly played by the four actors in question, and the way they interact with each other makes for a more believable scenario. The dead ended conclusion (no pun intended in this case) leads for an unfortunate lack of closure and renders this short sketch kinda pointless… but that's not necessarily a criticism of a piece of art… more of an observation of this particular one, which I would have liked to have seen, out of all of the shorts up to this point, expanded into a feature film.

Zomblies is a very different beast to the other films on these discs. It's very professional and it's a standard military rescue mission gone wrong film. The basic plot is - rescue the surviving members of the  first mission, get the viral samples they were trying to grab and then get back "over the wall" with as many as you came in with. A brilliant group of actors play in this shoot-and-chase mini epic which, at just over 40 mins, is well worth the price of the DVD. It stands up there with similarly military VS monsters movies as Neil Marshall's Dog Soldiers and... even the post end credit's nod to Ridley Scott's Gladiator and the Star Wars references don’t distract from a tip top example of a lower than low budget being put to really good use. If you like movies like A L I E N S and the aforementioned Dog Soldiers, then this is like a lower budget mini-replay of the same kind of material.

It Came From The West
This is a lively, if slightly overlong, “puppet's with chainsaws and spurty blood” presentation which mixes the zombie movie with standard American and Spaghetti Western tropes. It's quite fun in places although there's not a heck of a lot of story and once the novelty of puppets dying or re-dying from horrible wounds grinds on... at a quarter of an hour in length it kind of wears out its welcome a little. Nice to have something so different on this collection though.

Paris By Night Of The Living Dead
This is a terrible movie which looks like it could have been a starting off point for REC 3 but is ultimately just a blurry mess. And I mean, literally blurry. It looks like it’s either been shot on low definition videotape or maybe blown up from a file which would have been best served as a little, small sized internet presentation. I'm trying to forget this waste of a decent title.

Indian film Savages certainly gives Zomblies a run for its money for being the best film on this collection. The lush jungle settings are well shot and the editing is fantastic. More important than that, though, is the way the script and acting builds up the relationships between the characters on this tale of four guys who go trekking in a biohazardous, forbidden zone. I was worried when, after about a minute, there was some dancing, but the tone and pace soon settles down and this is a well realised and, given its obvious budgetary shortcomings, well crafted zombie movie.

Dead Hungry
A joyful movie of comedy gold. It's all in the timing and the performances by the main zombie protagonist and his zombie girlfriend. All he wants is some brains to eat, but those pesky humans, and other zombies, keep stopping him from getting to his food supply in this, quite literally, eye popping gem of a short. For anybody who's ever laughed at the violence in a horror movie, this short told through the eyes of a zombie is right up your street.

And that’s it. If this had stopped at just the contents of the first disc, I’d say don’t bother with it. But by the time the second disc is watched, it turns out that five or six of these movies are worth having. There’s no way anybody not into the zombie genre, or just starting out exploring those kinds of movies, would ever want to give these a spin. There are, for the most part, better feature length movies out there giving you a lot more than these shorts have to offer. If, however, you are a veteran of the zombie genre and you need a fix and don’t mind ploughing through some less nourishing gruel to find the hidden gems, then this collection is something that you might just come to cherish as time wears on.

Saturday, 16 March 2013


Stoker, Ace

UK/USA 2013
Directed by Chan-wook Park
Playing at UK cinemas now.

Warning: Very slight spoilers if anyone knows their movie history.

Right then. Here we have famous Korean auteur Chan-wook Park directing a film co-financed between the UK and the US and shooting it in English.

Okay... I can do that.

I should, right away though, point out that... out of this particular director’s body of work, the only movies I am familiar with by him are his loosely knitted “vengeance trilogy” and out of those three films, the only one I really enjoyed was Lady Vengeance.

That being said, Stoker is a pretty neat film and my only disappointment stems from the lack of twist or sting in the tail of this one... the whole thing being, I’m afraid, fairly cliché ridden and utterly predictable. However, that’s kinda missing the point with a movie like this and there are a fair few things which raise this past the level of the routine meandering of the story and lift it well into the boundary of “necessary viewing”... the most obvious being the very rich and neat visual imagery on show.

There’s just so much going for it in “the look” and the bright green, yellow and red colouration used in a lot of the shots combined with some very leisurely camera movement and an editing style which is used as metaphor to capture the mood and psychology of the characters when required, makes for a very seductive and addictive piece of film-making. Indeed, a lot of the movie plays without the necessity of character dialogue and the visual richness, not just of the overall mise-en-scene but also of the way shots are rubbed together to create intent and foreshadowing, makes for an almost perfect movie.

Except it isn’t perfect, by any means.

The film does tend to broadcast the overall arc of the film quite blatantly, so perhaps the “silent cinema” mode of some of the sequences were perhaps a little over the top. The movie comes from a lineage which quickly switches from Hitchcock’s Shadow Of A Doubt to a less polluted cinematic legacy which includes movies such as Badlands and Natural Born Killers. Indeed, it could well be considered a less obviously humorous version of Heathers than it could be a lot of other things. And the performances by all the central characters are just superb. Everybody is perfectly framed and delivering lines or going through various actions in a cinematic space which is uncluttered, painterly and gives the performances a lot of room to breathe.

And top marks to Park for coming up with such staggering compositions which still somehow manage to look effortless. One particular shot in the movie has the three main characters sitting down together for dinner and even though the distance between each of the characters is only what can be arranged around a fairly standard sized table, the breadth of depth the director manages to get in by having Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska share two separate planes (and therefore sizes) split up between the back of Matthew Goode’s head in the immediate foreground is absolutely astonishing as you see the three occupying completely different kinds of spaces within the same shot... it just blew me away. Ditto to a couple of other shots right at the end of the movie which were a quite beautiful mix of “blood and nature” which I would have thought almost unique... if I hadn’t already seen more or less the same shots done by Tarantino in Django Unchained (reviewed here) a few months prior to this (no, I don’t know who made their movie first... it’s probably all been done before anyway).

Clint Mansell’s score, too, is pretty good... as are some of the needle-drop choices in this movie. I don’t know if the amazingly sexualised piano duet was his invention or not, but it sounds amazingly like the music of Philip Glass (it’s not) and is making me want to rush out and grab the soundtrack CD as I write this.

My conclusion then, for this movie, is that it’s not as good as Lady Vengeance but certainly the next best of this director’s works... as far as I’ve seen, at any rate. Script, performances and visual poetry aside, the film is perhaps not going to blow you away in terms of originality unless you have not seen a lot of other movies in your lifetime. Ultimately, this isn’t quite the rich “visual feast” I had been lead to expect from this director... it is however, at the least, a very tasty “visual buffet with side salad” and certainly doesn’t deserve to be ignored at the cinema in favour of the loud and clunky Hollywood made movies which are currently on offer at UK cinemas. It’s a well made piece of art and you should take a look at it if you get a chance. Very much a recommendation and something which certainly has a lot to offer in terms of finding interesting ways to convey the inner psychology of the main protagonists and antagonists. Please see it before it goes.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Mystery On Monster Island

A Verne For The Worse

Mystery On Monster Island
1981 Spain/USA
Directed by Juan Piquer Simón
Midnite Movies DVD Region 1

This film first came to my attention only a couple of weeks ago when I finished reading the excellent book on Paul Naschy promotional material, Muchos Gracias Senor Lobo (reviewed here). I saw some beautiful poster artwork for this movie in this book and, not only did it seem to star Paul Naschy... top billing went to Peter Cushing and Terence Stamp. Furthermore, it was also based on the writings of one of my favourite writers, Jules Verne, so there was no way I wasn’t going to order the cheap Midnite Movies edition off of Amazon for less than a fiver!

I’d assumed, when I first saw the poster, that the Jules Verne tale this one took as its source would have been my favourite of his tales, the semi-sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea... Mysterious Island. There were no monsters in the original tale of that one, of course, but there is a mystery at the story’s heart and famous adaptations of that particular work in the past have often featured giant monsters of one kind or another (heck... I even have a 1950s cinema serial of Mysterious Island which also sees fit to include invaders from another planet lead by a dominant queen) so this was my first guess on the source.

And of course I was dead wrong... something which most reviewers of this movie, it seems, tend to ignore or remain ignorant of when doing their own research on the subject! Being as most of them seem to proclaim that this movie is based on Mysterious Island. Not so!

In actual fact, the film is based on Verne’s work School for Robinsons, which I believe may well have been a partial sequel to one of his many other, interlocking books but unfortunately, my little knowledge of Verne is sadly limited to the 10 or 12 of them which are continually kept in print in the UK... and we have nothing like the whole of his work available to us over here (although maybe if I joined the Kindle revolution?). So, having said that, I obviously can’t judge as to whether this movie is a good adaptation.

What I can say for definite is... it’s a mostly lousy movie. It does have some cheesy looking monsters in it and, obviously, that can only be a good thing... but ultimately, this movie never really succeeds in hitting that mark where, “it’s so bad it’s good”. Instead, becoming a mostly tiresome and plodding effort which you will probably find yourself wishing to end sooner rather than later.

It’s a bit of a strange beast as well because it’s obviously a childrens film - certainly, the comic relief character is squarely and irritatingly pitched at a younger audience in the most over the top manner you wouldn’t even catch on an episode of Playschool and, since he seems to get the majority of the screen time, it’s pretty much a kid’s holiday film at heart. Much less a family film than it is a youngster’s glittery distraction. However, saying that, Paul Naschy is seen taking a few blood squib explosions to his body very early on in the proceedings and is depicted with both his arms literally running red with blood... which is interesting considering the obvious target audience. I really couldn’t imagine this got much, if any, of a release in this country at the time.

Which leads me into Paul Naschy’s demise and the way that he and the two actors who take top billing are treated. This must have been a really cheap movie because Naschy lasts less than five minutes on screen before he is blown up and drops out of the story. Peter Cushing and Terence Stamp fare a little better... but not by much. Cushing and Stamp really only appear for 5 minutes or so at the start of the film and 10 minutes maybe at the end. The budget obviously didn’t stretch to having them on set for very long and, for the rest of the movie, the beleaguered audience has to make do with two male leads who, between them, seem to show either a total lack of personality or, in the case of the comic relief, an overabundance of obvious and overblown comedy enthusiasm. This doesn’t make for good viewing. What’s worse is that Terence Stamp is supposed to be the main villain but for the majority of the picture the main villain and his many henchmen run around with their bodys and heads totally covered in heavy masks and coats... presumably because the cheap budget meant that the producers had to hide the fact that they didn’t have Terence Stamp on set most of the time, instead electing to dub his voice on a hidden actor's lines instead.

Having said all that, there were a few things which made it so, as bored as I was, the movie wasn’t one I actually regretted seeing... although it was a close call. The monsters are mostly fairly cheesy and this lends the few scenes where you actually see some, a certain amount of amusement (or at least more amusement than the official comic relief provides, at any rate).

Secondly, in an effort to defend their desert island home from Stamp’s villainous horde, our irritating heroes construct some defences around the piece of sand they call their home. One of the things they make, although I’ve no idea how, is a homemade Gatling gun made of bamboo chutes which rapidly fires bananas at the turn of a handle. This is, of course, something of a stroke of genius and I am, and always will be, happy to say I’ve seen a film in which a banana firing, bamboo-chute Gatling gun is used to ward off a bunch of antagonists.

A third thing, which is another mixed bag, is the music. The composing credit doesn’t come up until the end of this one but it seems to be put together by three separate composers. So I’m guessing this means the movie has a needle-drop style score, from a library of universal cues written by these particular composers... or the film had a very troubled production history (which I suspect is probably the case). Or possibly, even, a less than thrilling combination of both of those elements. Either way, there’s a really strident and neat tune which is played quite a lot throughout the movie at various points which really does catch the ear. Unfortunately, though, it’s completely inappropriate to any of the scenes it’s used to score. So while I am quite happy to keep this as my own personal earworm, and would rush to buy the score to this movie if anyone is wise (or perhaps foolish) enough to release it... I would have to say that the movie itself suffers from the inclusion of most of the music here and if anything, the score robs the lacklustre shot design and jarring edits of any kind of power it might have had a chance at gaining and kind of makes things a lot worse most of the time.

Nice music though.

And there’s no more really to say about this one. I don’t regret buying this movie (banana Gatling gun, remember?) but this is definitely not a film I’d recommend to many people, even die hard B-movie enthusiasts who have a love of cheesy monsters. It’s just not that noteworthy I’m afraid. For the jaded and curious only, I would say. All others may be best advised to keep their distance. The greatest mystery of Mystery On Monster Island is how the budget holders were persuaded to let loose their purse strings and unleash such a piece of uninspired tosh into the world.

Monday, 11 March 2013



USA 2013
Directed by Taylor Hackford
Playing at cinemas now.

Okay. So here’s an always good trivia question for you. What do actress Anna Karina and actors Lee Marvin, Jim Brown, Robert Duvall, Peter Coyote, Mel Gibson and Jason Statham all have in common?

The answer, of course, is that they’ve all played the title character of this movie here... Parker. 

How come? Well...

The writer Donald E. Westlake has published numerous novels under both his own name and also many under a string of pseudonyms. Perhaps his most famous pen name is that of writer Richard Stark, the name he used for a long series of novels about an unstoppable, ruthless but principled professional thief named Parker. Stephen King fans take note that the George Stark pseudonym used by the main protagonist of King’s novel The Dark Half, and the unstoppable monster that stalks him, are heavily inspired by Richard Stark and Parker.

And of course, there have been movies too.

Many movies but, and here’s the thing, due to some kind of contractual or other arrangement, in the many previous movies based on his character - Anna Karina in Godard's Made In U.S.A, Lee Marvin in Point Blank, Jim Brown in The Split, Robert Duvall in The Outfit, Peter Coyote in Slayground and Mel Gibson in Payback - none of these characters have been allowed to be called Parker. Which in some ways, I guess, is handy for a studio because, if you’re going to have different people playing him, it doesn’t tie you into any rival companies films (is my guess).

Meanwhile, Donald E. Westlake died back in 2008 and so, here we have the character back on screen once more in an adaptation of the Stark novel Flashfire but, this time, they can get away with calling the character by the handle he goes by in the books, hence, Parker.

Now it’s at this point that I have to confess that I’ve only ever seen one previous Parker movie (so far), Lee Marvin’s outstanding portrayal opposite Angie Dickinson in John Boorman’s mini masterpiece Point Blank. I’ve also only ever read one of the Parker novels too, I'm afraid... The Hunter, on which both Point Blank and Payback were both based, and that was a long time ago, so I guess what I’m telling you is that I’m not one hundred percent able to tell you if the character (and performance of that character by Jason Statham) in this new movie does the source material properly or not.

What I can say though is... it felt right.

When the movie started I wondered if Parker had maybe been softened down a little but, frankly, even though Statham plays the character in a fairly sympathetic light (aka someone you can get behind and cheer), he still carries with him the subtext of being an unstoppable, or at least wildly tenacious, killing machine who will go to the ends of the earth and endure everything for a principal... to get what he, and his, have been promised.

And I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Now I have to say the direction of this movie in certain areas felt kinda wearing, in as much as I’m blaming the director really for having a say in both how the shots were designed and framed and also, as it happens, how things were edited together. I saw nothing truly joyful in terms of the visual composition all the way through the film, it has to be said. Similarly the editing seemed a bit choppy to me and I was constantly noticing how various actions in a scene were chopped up into various angles when a master shot or tracking shot could have covered things in one hit and... well... if I was noticing all this stuff when I should have just been kicking back and enjoying the movie, then I guess there’s something wrong there. Well, unless the director wanted to deliberately call my attention to that stuff and pretend he’s Godard... but I’m guessing not.

That being said, though, I have to give the director a lot of credit for doing a lot right in this movie. It did suck me in quite a lot and some of the suspense sequences in this movie, and that’s all a big editing thing to pull off too, really were quite effectively suspenseful and it’s not often you get that working in modern thrillers... so that’s a big tick for him right there. I think what we have on our hands is a good work a day director turning in a movie for a studio which is going to do the business because, at the end of the day, it’s a really good little film.

When it comes to Jason Statham, I’m used to him being really excellent, and he proves to be again in this. He’s also ably supported by Jennifer Lopez, who I’ve long known is a really capable and very underrated little actress, it seems to me. All of the performances in this are good with particular nods of the hat to Emma Booth, who plays Parker’s main squeeze Claire and Michael “Ben Grimm The Thing” Chiklis who plays a pretty decent, and therefore fairly nasty, heavy.

The action sequences in this are pretty good too and one fight in particular came across to me as kind of a cross between the train fist-fight between Sean Connery and Robert Shaw in From Russia With Love and the apartment fight with Matt Damon in The Bourne Identity. Jason Statham is known for being able to do some pretty spectacularly choreographed fight scenes but I have to credit the film-makers here for paring that spectacle down and instead going for something far more brutal and earthy. When people start hitting each other they get hurt and the way the violent elements in this one are put together... you really start to feel it (the sound design helps a lot in these sequences too). So I guess what I’m also saying there is that... maybe the action editing was a little better in those kind of fast paced, short duration, sequences of shots than it was in certain other parts of the movie. I don’t know... I’d have to see it again (which I may well do, as it happens).

It’s also pretty well written and although the film is maybe just a little long, and I was kinda distracted by the way certain scenes were being put together and presented to me, that overall I really enjoyed this one and can easily recommend it to lovers of thrillers (it’s not a gung ho action movie... and better for that) and also as a jumping on point to the world of Parker, if you’ve never seen or read any of his adventures before. Richard Stark, that is “Parker’s pen name”, would hopefully approve of this one. Give it a go.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Diamonds Are Forever

Of Ice And Men

Diamonds Are Forever
1971 UK
Directed by Guy Hamilton
EON Blu Ray Region A/B/C

Okay... so despite the previous film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, being the all time, drop dead, greatest Bond movie ever made... it did poorly at the box office and through one reason or another, and there are a few conflicting reports as to why, neither the director/editor Peter Hunt, nor the previous film’s Bond (George Lazenby) returned to the franchise again... although Lazenby did briefly recreate his Bond role for the 1983 TV special The Return Of The Man From U.N.C.L.E (the U.N.C.L.E series already had ties to Ian Fleming and Bond, of course, as highlighted in my review of Goldfinger here).

The next film, Diamonds Are Forever, sees Guy Hamilton, the director of Goldfinger, return to the series and, as I’ve said before, it’s my least favourite of the EON produced Connery films in the series, although I have to say I enjoyed it rather more with this latest viewing than with any of my previous times. Having said that, though, I believe I really liked it when I was about 6 years old and saw it in a double bill at the cinema with another Bond movie. For some reason the ending always stuck in my mind, where gay killers Wyntt and Kidd, as played by Bruce Glover and Putter Smith, return at the end to kill Bond and instead, find themselves in a heap of trouble (Glover is the father of Crispin Glover, of course, and you can really see the family resemblance).

This film has a few nice moments including a start that follows on directly from the previous movie... but fails big time at maintaining that continuity by having the main protagonist and antagonist played by different actors... Sean Connery returning to the role of Bond for one more film and Charles Gray, who played Henderson in You Only Live Twice, playing Blofeld and, in the process, managing to look nothing like Blofeld... so I don’t know how that was supposed to work.

Although it’s my least favourite EON Connery Bond movie, he does seem rather more enthusiastic in the role once more (unlike his sluggish performance in his previous Bond film, You Only Live Twice. In fact, right from the hard hitting revenge mission of this film’s roving pre-credits sequence, Bond seems to have been written just a little bit more vicious and uncompromising than he had been in the previous films... including a sexist, more misogynistic  undertone to the character that some audiences will be less tolerant of. However, that does all work in favour of the Bond personality (while perhaps getting a little more away from the books than he should have) and this kind of hard, damaged edge to the character helps you believe in him a little more as a man of action, someone who really could kill someone and not give a damn about it, than some of his previous films, and certainly more so than a couple of his later “actor incarnations” would be able to do.

I seem to remember the money ran out big time in the middle of production of this movie and stories such as the ending having been more elaborate but then cheapened down to, what seems to me to be, a somewhat muddled finale on an oil rig and the fact that Broccoli got a huge load of interiors loaned to him by his “old pal” Howard Hughes (already a recluse at the time) tend to take on somewhat legendary proportions among followers of Bond on film. The shoot can’t have been that fun either as there are some definite “fixes” in the edit and also, during the car chase scenes, you will see crowds of people all cordoned off on the streets to watch the action... not good.

However, you do have a superb cast including Jill St. John as the appropriately named Tiffany Case and Bruce Cabot, Hollywood veteran of such classic films as The Most Dangerous Game (aka The Hounds Of Zaroff), the original King Kong and its sequel, Son Of Kong. It also originally had a little scene featuring Sammy Davis Jr and I have no idea why the producers felt it right to cut that scene out. Surely his name on the marquee would have got more people to feed the box office? The scene still survives and is included as an extra in pretty much every DVD and BluRay edition of the film that’s been out, as far as I know. Famous UK based American actors Ed Bishop and Shane Rimmer, who seem to have become regulars in the series in a small way, are also on hand for people who like to play “spot the return actors in minor roles”.

All in all it’s not a terrible movie and the John Barry score to this one is an absolute gem. For years I remembered it as his weakest score for the series, based on my experiences with first the vinyl LP record of the score (which was used big time, along with the LP of Shafts Big Score, needle dropped onto the soundtrack of the Turkish superhero team up movie, Captain America and Santo vs. Spider-Man) and then from the original CD release. However, contrary to what those original score releases would have you believe, it is a fantastic musical achievement and further evidence of that can be found on the expanded re-release edition of a few years back. This is now definitely one of my favourite albums in the series (you can programme out some of the muzak from the earlier incarnation if you are so inclined) with the Wyntt and Kidd leitmotif in particular, standing out as a solid Barry classic.

If you are a long term fan of the Bond series then you should have a little fun with this one and there is enough in it, including a wonderful portrayal of Howard Hughes, renamed Willard Whyte, by actor Jimmy Dean (no, not that one!), to keep you amused and having a good time. You can even play spot the director in a few scenes. However, if Bond is not your thing and you haven’t seen one before, I really wouldn’t recommend you start off on this one... it just doesn’t hold up as well as the other EON produced Connery vehicles, I’m afraid.

EON James Bond Movie Reviews on NUTS4R2