(aka Wanted Women)
Directed by Al Adamson
Severin Blu Ray Zone A/B/C
Warning: Some spoilers within.
You know, as I rummage my way through Severin’s beautiful Al Adamson - The Masterpiece Collection, I’ll occasionally come across a hidden jewel. For every terrible Brain of Blood (reviewed here), Blood Of Dracula’s Castle (reviewed here) or Horror Of The Blood Monsters (reviewed here), there’s an unpolished gem of a movie such as Psycho-A-Go-Go (reviewed here), Five Bloody Graves (reviewed here) or The Fakers (Smashing The Crime Syndicate, reviewed here). Jessi’s Girls is one such precious stone of a movie. I mean, sure, it’s ragged around the edges... this is an Al Adamson film after all but, it’s engaging and pacey and makes for a good evening’s entertainment, for sure.
Now, I’ve not seen Bad Girls (got the Goldsmith score though, so I should get around to rectifying that situation in the near future, I guess) but, from the looks of the plot outline, it doesn’t stray too far from this rape/revenge western and I can’t help but think the writers/producers might have had the memory of this one in mind when they went forward on that movie.
After a not too inspiring opening title shot of Jessi’s Girls riding the open country, Adamson gets straight down to the plot when we meet the young, mormon couple of Jessi (played brilliantly by Sondra Currie) and her husband, travelling on their lonesome in their covered wagon. As they set up camp and try to get a fire going, we are treated to Jessi bathing naked by a waterfall and then doing sexy things with her main man before they are approached by the old timey Western equivalent of a thuggish, Al Adamson style motorcycle gang (but, you know, on horses).
In a particularly unpleasant sequence, the husband is tied up while the seven or so bandits take turns raping Jessi. They then shoot both Jessi and he husband dead and go off on their merry way. But what’s this? Jessi’s still alive after receiving the wound in her shoulder and, after digging the bullet out with her hot dagger (bizarrely, the shell is still in its casing which, according to IMDB... and presumably history... is not the kind of bullet wound you would get in the Old West), she starts walking her way out of the desert until she comes across a homestead and, in her primitive and brutalised state, she is befriended by the grizzly guy living there, who teaches her how to shoot so she can pursue the filthy scoundrels. He even gives her his shotgun, which he calls ‘Judy the equaliser’.
Meanwhile, as Jessi is being taught good shooting and such and such by her new ‘vengeance coach’, Adamson cross cuts the footage with three other events to set up the other members of... Jessi’s Girls.
First up we have wanted outlaw Rachel McBride played by Jennifer Bishop, riding in the desert with her somewhat damaged horse. A marshal, called Clay, catches up with her and takes her in. It’s at this point for the sake of not driving myself mad, that I have to point out that Clay is referred to by other characters as either ‘Marshal’, ‘Sheriff’ or ‘Deputy’ quite randomly throughout the entire running time of the movie. I don’t know why but I can only guess that the script kept changing or they were shooting different revisions each day and so his character, who is quite definitely a lawman (of sorts) has a kind of vague title. He does seem to be running things though so, for this review, I’ll just continue to refer to him as... Marshal Clay.
Next up we have prostitute Claire (or sometimes Clara, depending on what script was being read on the day, I suspect), who is played here by Al Adamson’s wife, Regina Carrol. For some reason, she starts shooting at a client after a good night’s sleep (portrayed by Hugh Warden, the same guy who played the heart attack client in Girls For Rent, reviewed here) and so Marshal Clay next arrests her.
Finally, we have Ellyn Stern as Kana, who gets left behind by her gang during a bank robbery, by the same bunch of bandits who attacked Jessi and her man at the start. So, of course, Clay arrests her too and puts her in a jail cell with the other two girls, ready to take them on the long, cross country trip to ‘territorial prison’ the next day.
And, naturally, the next day when he and a deputy (who also refers to him as deputy?) are trying to transfer the girls, it’s also Jessi’s first day of riding around, trying to catch up with the gang what ‘done her man in!’ She kills the deputy, wounds Clay and recruits the girls, grabbing the marshal and taking him with them for a bit so she can dress his wounds and 'sex him up for information' as to where the infamous gang hide out... which is apparently a ghost town feared by lawman and bounty hunters alike at Copper Creek. She lets Clay escape and the girls start off on their way there in pursuit of both justice and, also, the money from a recent bank robbery... the slight twist being that the robbery was the same one that Kana was at, who is the main squeeze of the gang’s leader.
After a fair amount of sexing, rogue bandit/indian killing and various other exploitation elements such as a fist fight between Kana and Claire, which is actually quite well staged and has some satisfying sound effects... we end up with the surviving three girls all arriving independently at Copper Creek for the big showdown. At the end of the confrontation it’s only Jessi and Clay, who has been following the trail of corpses left in the gal’s wake, to gun it out because... Clay just wants the bounty on the gang all to himself. The last shot is a humdinger and makes a nice, abrupt ending to the movie and, seriously, I would have easily watched a sequel to this one if somebody had thought to make one.
It does look rough and ready, for sure and, yeah, the cinematography isn’t monumentally stylish (although the fastly edited, frenetic hand held stuff in the fistfight I mentioned earlier gives a nice, kinetic feel to proceedings). But it does have a bunch of good performances at its heart which elevates things past the limitations of the script and the budget, with Sondra Currie being especially good in this movie, holding things together and looking, in my eyes at least, like a young Julianne Moore. The scene where she is raped is something she’s especially good in, as you see her eyes deaden to her plight as she loses her innocence and this intensity informs her fierce performance for the rest of the picture.
Also, the stunt work in that final gun battle, which includes Claire’s memorable last words as she is shot down, “It still beats whoring for a living!”, is actually pretty good. Some of these guys take some pretty hard and spectacular falls and I was especially impressed when Jessi does the old spaghetti western gag of lighting sticks of dynamite with her cheroot and blowing up a big wooden tower with a stuntman still standing on top of it... falling to earth midst the splintering wood fragments. Some nice action which, I dunno, feels kind of raw in that good way that you think, maybe some of today’s action directors could learn a thing or two from, by looking at movies like this once in a while.
So there you have it, Jessi’s Girls is definitely an Al Adamson diamond in the rough and I’d have no qualms about recommending it to anyone. I absolutely loved it and will watch it again no question, if I don’t run out of time first. If you’re going to do a rape/revenge Western then this is definitely the way to do it.
Thursday, 29 July 2021
Wednesday, 28 July 2021
Resistance Is Mutual
Directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho
Arrow Academy Blu Ray Zone B
Aquarius is a blind buy I picked up in Fopp records in one of their ultra cheap sales a couple of years ago. I hadn’t heard of it but something about it felt like it would make for compelling viewing... especially since the main protagonist is in her mid sixties... that’s unusual in itself for a lot of movies. I think I lucked out again because, it has to be said, it’s a pretty amazing film.
It’s also a long film, coming in at around the two and a half hour mark but, honestly, it doesn’t feel like it. It’s one of those movies which starts after about a minute and a half of company logos, which is a ridiculous amount of time for these things (I can’t remember a single one of them) but, I guess in proportion to the total running time, that’s a small enough percentage for me to have to sit through.
The Aquarius of the title is an apartment building on an ocean front and it’s here that around 95% of the movie is set. We see photographs of the surrounding area back in their heyday at the opening of the film and then go into it proper, introduced by the first of three chapter sections entitled... Part 1: Clara’s Hair, Part 2: Clara’s Love and Part 3: Clara’s Cancer. And don’t worry, that last section title is not a spoiler so much as it is a metaphor... but I’m not going to tell you about that as it will be a surprise to first time viewers.
For the first 5 - 10 minutes of the movie we are taken back to 1980, where we meet the main protagonist Clara, played for this small prelude by Bárbara Colen (who, I have to say, has a lot of presence in the role with just this small section). As we get an idea of her and her family, as a birthday party for her Aunt is in full swing, we find out the sort of woman she is... a cancer survivor and part of a family who are not frightened to do the right thing and even go to jail for their beliefs (such as her Aunt once did).
We then come forward in time to the present day (or 2016, in fact). Clara is widowed, has had a mastectomy of her right breast, is living alone in the same apartment of the Aquarius and she’s still pretty much the same person now... passionate about music, art, wine, her family and sex. She’s also a minor celebrity in some ways as she’s a well known music journalist/writer and you get the idea that she was quite an important figure in her past. Actually, that’s one of the nice things about this movie... there are a lot of details about certain things left unsaid and merely implied. Most movies of this nature don’t usually go down this route of using shorthand to draw the backgrounds of their characters but it’s nicely done here and you soon know everything you need to know about the tenacious Clara. Little things like, when she’s interviewed by a young journalist for an article, explaining the reason why physical media and the history of the object and surrounding paraphernalia is better than the ‘digital’ world of MP3s and so on... told me just the kind of person she was. I liked the character already.
Clara is now, at this age, played by an actress called Sônia Braga, who has had a long and illustrious career both in Hollywood and her own country. And, I have to confess, I’d never heard of her. I do now though and let me tell you... there are some films which are ensemble pieces and there are some films which rely heavily on the person who is the main lead to help make the film work. There’s no criticism to direction here, either approach is equally valid and can either work or fail depending on both the cast and crew. Let me say right up front that this movie belongs in the latter category and Sônia Braga is, frankly, absolutely sensational in this film. It’s a brilliant, electrifying performance she gives here and, indeed, many... including Braga herself... think it’s her greatest role.
The plot concerns a real estate company, presented by a young hotshot business manager, who wants Clara to move out of the Aquarius so they can redevelop it. Clara, however, is staying put, cares nothing that she’s the very last person living in the block (all the other tenants have been bought out) and is adamant in the quiet fury with which she rejects their persistent, lucrative offers. This is her domain and she and all her children were brought up here.
And the film wanders along exploring Clara’s day to day existence while, always in the background, we have the threat of the building company and what they’re going to try next to get her out. I won’t tell you but the film has a great and interestingly understated yet, still, ferocious focus to it which would not even be an event in a Hollywood movie. Here, though, it’s quite amazing and... yeah... I can’t spoil it for you.
The majority of the film is told in edits from one, mostly static or slow moving shot to another and the director often disregards any wildly ambitious camerawork. Again, that’s not to detract from the effectiveness of his choices here... it works very well. There are a few times, though, where the camera motion also does some interesting things. A couple of cross cutting dutch angles towards the end of the movie where Clara is looking up at the Aquarius, for example, are nicely juxtaposed. Also, there’s an absolutely amazing shot where the camera just looks away from Clara and pans up around a wall of her apartment and then wanders over the ceiling, as if looking for something. What makes this shot fantastic is the sound design, as it shows Clara struggling to hear the trajectory of the people outside her apartment and going into the rooms above. So the viewer's ear is almost tricked into following the sound by the implied movement of the camera within the frame... which I think was a very cool idea and I don’t remember seeing this done as well as this in a movie before.
This film sparked major political controversy when it played at Cannes which included, from what I can make out, a point where the cast and crew staged a protest. In vengeance, apparently, the film was awarded a 19 certificate to restrict it’s profits but an appeal got it to a 16 rating. Over here in the 'good old Victorian values United Kingdom,' of course, it’s been slapped with an 18 certificate for ‘strong sex’ anyway but, yeah, that’s just our stupid censorship system. I honestly don’t understand what all the political hoo hah with the film is and I’m not sure if it stems from the content of the movie (I’m not into politics so I wouldn’t recognise such concerns in a motion picture) or whether it’s for something which just happened to be going on at the time of the film’s premiere screenings but, taking all that stuff out of the equation, I can see that criticising the underhanded practices of certain real estate companies might be a threatening gesture towards certain industries (and any corrupt governments, of course).
All that shilly shallying aside, though, I can do nothing but sing the praises of Aquarius... it’s an absolutely stupendous, slice of life drama and Sônia Braga’s performance and the character she plays are an absolute joy to watch. This is definitely a film which will stay with me as the years go by. Definitely one to make yourself acquainted with.
Tuesday, 27 July 2021
My 2000th Blog Post
So here I am on my 2000th Blog Post already. I wanted to do something different for this but, I didn’t have anything I could pull out of my hat that I hadn’t already done before so I had nothing really prepared for this moment. I even did an online search to see what other people do for ‘special occasion’ blogs and what the ‘on blog celebration’ ideas might be but, some of them I’ve already done, some of them were just ridiculous and the one which I’d already wanted to do... which is to give away a big prize or something... well, I’m sorry but I don’t have a budget for that kind of stuff right now.
So, I’m sticking to my usual ‘post numbers blog’ format and doing something which isn’t a review and this time it’s... okay, well I have a love/hate (mostly hate) relationship with list articles but, yeah, this is kind of a list... I’d love it if some movie producer just stumbled on this one and got some ideas from it (like that would ever happen). What it is, is a list of ten cool characters who have appeared in movies either only once or, in the case of one of them here, a number of times in one-off attempts to get the character restarted... who really should have become running characters in a series of movies. I think the movie industry should maybe take a look at some of the characters on this list, many of whom could easily be played by the same acting talent in a number of sequels, because I really think these are missed opportunities in terms of creations who have a lot of legs and fictional people who I would love to see more movies made about.
There’s no ranking involved here... there’s no one character from this list of movie juggernauts (in my eyes) who need consideration over the others... I think all of these people deserve another shot at being turned into a franchise. So the order here is just alphabetical, as dictated by the first name of each character (in the case of all but one... you’ll know it when you see it). So, yeah, Happy 2000th to me, NUTS4R2 and, I hope you have an interesting time reading this. In the case of most of those listed here, if you’ve not seen the films in which they appear in some cases, maybe you should take a look at them because these characters are really cool. Most of these are reviewed here so, in most cases, if you click on the title of the movie in the subheading, it should take you into my review of the original film.
Clark Savage Jr
Doc Savage, 1975
Okay, so if you’re a longtime reader of this blog you’ll know of my love of the Doc Savage novels, kick started by seeing this movie in the cinema in 1975. This is a character who starred in over 180 original novels, published initially in the pulp magazines between 1933 and 1949, under the magazine pseudonym Kenneth Robeson (although almost all of these were written by Lester Dent) and then augmented over the years with new stories by the likes of Philip Jose Farmer and Will Murray. It’s a crime that only one movie has ever been made about him, starring Ron Ely and based on the first novel The Man Of Bronze. There should have at least been a 1930s serial based on this character and it’s terrible that I live in a universe where this didn’t happen. There was an attempt to get a movie made starring Chuck Connor’s as the character in the 1960s and you can read about what happened to that production here in my review of the Gold Key comic based on the unfilmed script. Doc has been picked up a few times over the last decade or so but still no movement on getting another film series of Clark’s 1930s adventures in sight. This needs to change.
Rhona Mitra played special trooper Eden Sinclair in this post-apocaylyptic blend of Mad Max 2 and Escape From New York, where a wall has been put up outside Scotland to keep a lethal virus out of the UK. Many years later, Sinclair leads a team into what’s left of Scotland, to try and bring out a cure which might possibly be there. She’s a great character who has a bionic eye which she can take out and roll around so she can see around corners etc. I’d love to see another movie using this character and Mitra shows just how good she is at playing these kinds of roles.
The Awakening, 2011
Florence Cathcart is a professional sceptic and debunker of the supernatural, until she runs head on into it, of course, in the supernatural thriller The Awakening. When we meet her, she’s played by the great Rebecca Hall and she’s both a tough as nails but also a fairly vulnerable character to throw into the deep end of the spiritual realm. As the film continues, a certain gift for channeling the spirits is exhibited in the character... even though she doesn’t realise it for a long time (although I’m pretty sure most of the audience will figure out just what that special talent is from very early on in the movie). I’d love to see more films where the previously sceptical Cathcart is involved in adventures in the realm of the supernatural, while trying to find a more explicable cause for them. And I’d love to see Rebecca Hall back in the part now (wow, is it ten years ago already since this one came out?).
Star Trek - Season Two: Assignment Earth, 1968
Gary Seven was a human(ish) secret agent from Earth’s far future who was sent back in time to 1968 to find out why two other ‘time agents’ have failed to report in to his superiors... which is where he encounters Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise, also somewhat misplaced in time. Robert Lansing played Gary Seven and this episode was originally intended as a pilot for a proper full on Gary Seven TV show but, presumably, wasn’t taken up by the studio. He had a sonic screwdriver-like device and a highly intelligent, shape changing cat of dubious origin. The episode also featured actress Terri Garr as someone who was obviously going to carry on as Seven’s new human assistant... you might remember her from such films as Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and Young Frankenstein. Although Lansing is long dead, I’d love to see the full TV series in development sometime with a bright, young star in the role.
It Follows, 2014
Well, I didn’t know what to call this demonic, sexual curse creature but, in some ways, I guess you can imply it’s an ‘It’ from the title, right? This was a big hit horror film when it came out seven years ago and I have no idea why we don’t have at least one sequel to it already... not to mention a franchise. It doesn’t even have to be populated by the same characters as in the first film, obviously, since the sexual chain that 'It' has to kill in descending order can be carried on for anyone, assuming the creature didn’t die at the end of the film... it’s kind of implied that there’s a possibility it’s still out there, still following the chain of sexual encounters back to their centre of origin.
The Final Programme, 1973
Michael Moorcock’s notorious and changeable Jerry Cornelius character has really only been in one film proper, Robert Feust’s poorly received (at the time) but absolutely incredible The Final Programme. There are a number of stories which could be easily adapted for cinema and, also, some which would not be that easy to adapt (although I believe a couple of them could be cross pollinated as a double adaptation if you wanted to go down that route). Moorcock himself hates this movie but I think it captures the character quite well in the snapshot of the first novel it’s trying to achieve (albeit with a whole load of stuff missed out but... that’s the nature of the medium). Jon Finch did a fine job of bringing Mr. C to life and I think the character, who is supposed to look somewhat like Mick Jagger, could easily be re-tapped for some more ‘truer-to-Moorcock’ on-screen adventures with someone like David Tennant in the role.
Princess Of Mars, 2009
John Carter, 2012
I’ve still not seen the decidedly dodgy (by all reports), budget inadequate, 2009 straight to video, very loose adaptation of A Princess Of Mars (aka Under The Moons Of Mars) by Edgar Rice Burroughs but... I’ll get around to it (however much I’m dreading it). I love Burroughs’ series of Martian novels, many of which are headed up by either John Carter, former cavalry man and future Warlord Of Mars or his son Carthoris. The 2012 movie John Carter, starring Taylor Kitsch as the character, was not without two glaring problems... the fact that they wrote in a more scientific way of travelling between worlds rather than the accidental ‘astral projection’ of the novel and, also, the fact that the Martians in the movie wear clothes... but overall it was a pretty great movie and it was just badly marketed. This film deserved at least a couple of sequels and the character is in desperate need of a reboot... which probably won’t happen now due to the poor box office of the 2012 version.
Razor Blade Smile, 1998
Jake West’s truly brilliant movie Razor Blade Smile highlights main character Lilith Silver, as played by Eileen Daly. She’s a vampire living in modern times who has been around since she was ‘turned’ sometime in the 19th Century and who is in the thick of it against an evil cult who intend her harm. The film has a marvellous twist to it and it makes it very easy to do any number of sequels. Lilith has a lot of personality (almost like a female version of Jerry Cornelius, see above) and it shines amidst a wonderful atmosphere of blood, nudity and gore. I’d love to see more movies made about this character but, for right now, I’d settle for a decent Blu Ray transfer of this thing by some smart UK label... more people should know about this movie and character. I’m surprised there have been no comic books.
Modesty Blaise, 1966
Modesty Blaise, 1982
My Name Is Modesty, 2004
Peter O’ Donnel’s absolutely brilliant newspaper strip character ran for a long time and, more importantly, was in a string of novels written by him which are absolutely first class ‘ex-head of crime network turns espionage queen’ novels. There have been three attempts to capture the character on screen so far and, each one has had some real problems. The first of these was the Jospeph Losey movie Modesty Blaise, which starred Monica Vitti in the title role. It’s a fantastic film if you can divorce it from the source material but, although it’s based on the first novel, it completely fails to capture the tone of the stories and instead turns it into a comedy. Monica Vitti looks perfect as Modesty... in one scene where she has her trademark black, skin tight jump suit and her dark hair... but looks completely unlike the character for the majority of the film. I can see why O’Donnell hated this one and all subsequent attempts to put her on the screen. The second attempt, Modesty Blaise in 1982, was a failed TV pilot movie and, although I haven’t seen it, the clips I have seen tell you all you need to know as to why it failed. The producers have tried to turn her into something which completely fails, again, to capture the character of the stories. I have recently come into a ‘print’ of this to watch at some stage for the blog but... I’ve not been brave enough yet to unleash that disappointment on myself. In 2004, Quentin Tarantino (who had featured a later edition of the first novel in Pulp Fiction), produced another low budget venture with My Name Is Modesty but, once again, failed to deliver the goods. Although, he and the director really made a rod for their own backs on this by making it an origin story, of sorts, so the only character from the actual stories in this one was a very young version of Modesty herself. O’ Donnel is dead now so I presume the rights to the character may well be on the market again and, seriously, we need someone to do a proper Modesty Blaise franchise of movies... especially since the actress Gal Gadot is an absolutely perfect fit for the character. This needs to happen and someone should tell her she’s perfect for this.
As Above, So Below, 2014
Scarlett Marlowe is the young, rogue archaeologist who is the central protagonist in the ‘gates of hell found under the catacombs of Paris’ movie As Above So Below, as played by Perdita Weeks. She’s gutsy, persistent and unflappable... even in the face of being pursued by supernatural demons. It’s an under seen belter of the ‘found footage’ horror cycle and the ending of the film leaves it wide open for us to join the character in another adventure... presumably along the lines of a ‘horror movie meets Lara Croft’ style series of films. I would love to see her further adventures but, like the Florence Cathcart character from The Awakening (as mentioned above) the movie was presumably planned as a one off adventure and, I wish the producers would see the potential of expanding the character out into other adventures.
And that’s me done on the under appreciated, under used characters of film and television over the years... at least as I see them. I think all of the above could be mined for box office gold if done right and the fact that they haven’t been is a real head scratcher to me. Anyway, that’s 2000 posts published and... more reviews to follow. Thanks for reading.
Monday, 26 July 2021
Machete Maidens Unleashed
Directed by Mark Hartley
Umbrella Entertainment Blu Ray Zone A/B/C
(as a double bill with Electric Boogaloo -
The Wild, Untold Story of Canon Films)
I think I may be getting jaded as the years go by.
I bought this Blu Ray because I wanted to take another look at Electric Boogaloo - The Wild, Untold Story Of Canon Films, which I saw as part of the London Film Festival back in 2014 (my review is here) and I got fed up with trying to find a UK Blu Release but found this one which, I suspect, is an Australian edition and which is double billed with an earlier documentary by the same director, Machete Maidens Unleashed.
Now, I knew this was about Filipino exploitations films and the title and image of a half naked woman swinging her machete seemed at least a little relevant to my interests. And, it has to be said, it is a finely made documentary but, like I said, I think I may be getting a little jaded about this sort of thing. Either that or I’ve just seen too many of these documentaries that they all blend into one now. Stuff like American Grindhouse (reviewed here) and Corman’s World have got a fair few overlaps and, I guess that’s inevitable when you’re looking at stuff like this.
That being said, if you’ve not seen things like this before it’s probably a real eye opener, even if it concentrates on just a few of the usual suspects to give it a narrative. I guess I’d never realised the strong links between the Filipino productions and the American companies like Roger Corman’s New World Pictures before. I had no idea that fairly famous, household name movies like The Big Bird Cage, TNT Jackson and Firecracker were Filipino productions, for example.
So, yeah, the film starts off by concentrating on the Blood Island films. Now I’ve seen those plus the various, well produced supporting extras from Severin Films already (and reviewed them here) so a sizeable segment on these seemed somehow redundant to me... and then it went into similarly themed territory with all the Corman stuff etc. So, again, it’s not them it’s me... I was expecting a fresh subject but what I got were retreads of things I’d seen tackled before. The documentary is decently enough put together with a fair few talking heads like Corman, John Landis, Joe Dante, Sid Haig etc and I’m happy to see them... I was just expecting something which would give me a big ‘to watch’ list of things and, of course, a lot of this stuff still hasn’t made it onto Blu Ray (or even DVD where the UK is concerned) so if you do find something you need to grab, the lack of a high quality sourced version of it can be a little frustrating, to be honest.
However, like I said, if you’ve not seen a lot of these films or documentaries then you will probably have a really good time with this movie. I certainly don’t begrudge the small price of purchase because, with both Machete Maidens Unleashed and Electric Boogaloo, the films are accompanied by a wealth of extras including, for each, a big compilation of trailers of the respective movies. I’ve yet to watch these two selections as yet (running a total of about two hours between them) but for me... well, I would have paid twice the amount just to get the contents of these extras so I’m pretty happy with this, it has to be said.
One of the things I did learn in this, from some of the American directors and actors who were filming over there on these things, was just how bad the working conditions were... lack of health and safety came up a lot. Plus, things got even more dangerous after the president declared martial law and it was hazardous to be out on the streets after curfew... and everyone seemed armed to the teeth anyway. The other thing I learnt from this was... Pam Grier seemed up for almost anything, which just makes me love her even more and if you want to read a great book about her, well then my review of her autobiography entitled Foxy - A Life In Three Acts can be found here.
I guess I did learn about the history of the situation too... the reasons why the American producers started working there (it was very cheap) and how that all came about. It was also interesting to see someone like John Landis talking about the fan culture surrounding some of the films people direct and how, when someone presents a theory to a director with what he or she was trying to achieve in their movie, the director would normally look at them and nod in acknowledgement but, inside, they were more likely to be thinking... and I quote Landis here... “What the f*** are they talking about?”.
All in all, then, I did have some fun and the film has an incredible opening title sequence using clips from some of the films posterised out in different colours, juxtaposed with bits of animated memorabilia and poster art etc. This maybe raised the bar and set my expectations a little too high but, yeah, a good section of titles.
And that’s about all I’ve got to say about this one. Easily a strong recommendation for people who haven’t seen or don’t know much about this material but it did seem somewhat less niche and commercial to me so, be prepared to coast if you’ve already seen a lot of info on this subject from other sources. Definitely worth getting the Umbrella Entertainment double bill Blu Ray though, if only for the extras. There’s some good stuff on there.
Sunday, 25 July 2021
Godzilla Home Alone
All Monsters Attack
Oru kaijû daishingeki
aka Godzilla's Revenge
Japan 1969 Directed by Ishirô Honda
Toho/Criterion Collection Blu Ray Zone B
Okay...so time for me to re-watch and review what is a singularly unique film in pretty much all of the various Godzilla eras. After the success of the previous film in the series, Destroy All Monsters (which I reviewed here and which is, confusingly, known by the title All Monsters Attack in some territories... possibly the same ones where this film has a title change to one of many, such as Godzilla’s Revenge), Toho decided to carry on the series of Godzilla films after all (the previous was intended to be the last, initially). However, the mostly diminishing returns of many of the previous films in the cycle made them look at what their imitators making the Gamera films were doing right and so, this one was tailored to be a Godzilla film targeted at younger children... ready for release into cinemas at Christmas.
The film has a strong child protagonist who pretty much carries the film on his own and, in fact, the many scenes with various monsters on Monster Island all take place in the imagination of the lead protagonist, who often dreams, Walter Mitty-like, about his friends Minilla, Godzilla and various other monsters. Which is why, in this one, cute little Minilla even has a load of scenes with dialogue as he talks to the boy, Ichiro, played by Tomonori Yazaki. Being as the monsters don’t actually appear in the real world at all in this movie, outside of collaborating with Ichiro in his dreams, pretty much anything is permissable and I guess having Godzilla’s son loafing around and talking Japanese is a good example of this.
Okay, so the plot of this is... schoolboy Ichiro is ‘picked on’ often by the school bully and he’s a latchkey kid, not seeing much of his parents as they tend to work all hours while relying on a friend, a toymaker neighbour, to provide him with food when they’re gone. Thrown into the mix are two robbers who have just stolen 50 million yen and are hiding out in the area. Ichiro’s mind wanderings, where he watches Minilla and Godzilla battle various monsters in what are mostly re-tracked footage from previous Godzilla films, help him to become confident enough to tackle his bullies and, during the second part of the film, evade recapture after he has been taken as a hostage by the two robbers, when he inadvertently stumbles into their hiding place. In fact, pretty much the whole last quarter of an hour of the film is Ichiro laying in wait in an abandoned building, foiling these two criminal buffoons in what has to be an early precursor and possibly even an influence on the Home Alone movies.
The film starts off as it means to go on, with a fun song in what would be a completely out of place score in most Godzilla movies, playing through the credits. Composer Kunio Miyauchi only did little more than ten movie and TV show scores, such as work on Ultraman... this was his only score for the Godzilla series. The opening song, sung by a child chorus against, at first, footage of fighting monsters... is pretty 'out there' for the series so far (more groovy songs were coming). This is followed by an opening which, like the rest of the film, shows how well Honda could shoot movies with some truly interesting shot designs. The opening here follows Ichiro and his friend as they walk home from school through a city where the grime and pollution of the urban environment really hits home. As if to highlight one of the underlying social messages of the film, the song then starts up again and tells us that “smog and exhaust are the real monsters”. This message of the evils of pollution would, of course, be much more overtly explored in the next film in the series (which also happens to be my favourite, if memory serves).
The other two messages the film wants to impart seem almost a little contradictory. On the one hand it criticises the adult world and the parents who leave their young to fend for themselves while they go to work but, on the other hand, the scenes where Godzilla is strict with his son to stand up and fight for himself and his enthusiasm to train Minilla to make a stand, kind of emphasises, to some degree, the exact opposite.
This move is not very well liked, it seems, by fans of The Big G and, while it’s not great, I do have a soft spot for it, not just because is has some beautiful cinematography but because it tries to break the mould and do something different. Honda makes some interesting aesthetic choices which I’ve not seen him try before, such as lots of sequences which are filmed in slow motion or various static images used as a montage to make an almost comic book like sequence in places. Indeed, the abruptness of the effects and edits and the psychedelic segues into the dream sequences, where even the laws of gravity are not as harsh as in the real world, give the film a kind of 1970s anime kind of feel. It’s a long way from his usual style so... that’s pretty interesting, isn’t it?
This playful style may be at odds when, say, one of the robbers pulls a flick knife and wants to stab the kid but for the most part it gets away with it. There’s one sequence during a monster fight where the composer does a kind of ‘homage riff’ on Akira Ifukube’s main Godzilla character theme (not the march) but, mostly the music is light hearted and much like you would expect, in fact, for a children’s movie.
So that’s me done with All Monsters Attack. This is not the disaster that a lot of Godzilla watchers tend to make out and actually has a lot of interesting things in it, if you can handle the slightly more childish tone. Definitely one you’d need to take a look at if you want a well rounded look at the different styles of Gojira movies over the years... this one’s very unusual.
Thursday, 22 July 2021
Girls For Rent
(aka I Spit On Your Corpse)
Directed by Al Adamson
IIP/Severin Blu Ray Zone A/B/C
Warning: Some spoilers... if you care about such things in an Al Adamson movie.
So next up in my journey through Severin’s beautiful box set Al Adamson - The Masterpiece Collection is Girls For Rent and, like a lot of his films, I really wouldn’t take this one at face value based on any expectations inspired by the title or marketing campaign. It has very little to do with the prostitution racket, for example... that’s just a backdrop to kickstart the actual story of the movie. That being said, it’s not a dud as such and, in some ways, is one of his more entertaining movies.
It starts of with a bunch of lady prisoners working on a road, two of whom create a diversion. One of them, Sandra, played by hardcore porn actress Georgina Spelvin, runs in one direction and is being chased off by a guard. A whole large bunch of the prisoners manage to escape in the prison van and... then just drop out of the story. You never find out the fate of all the other ladies who escape. Meanwhile, a car is waiting by a road and another girl, who is a syndicate enforcer named Erica, played by Rosalind Miles, can see Sandra is having trouble getting to her rendezvous point so she pulls out a six shooter, attaches a silencer, followed by some other bits and pieces, to turn it into a really cool little rifle-pistol of some kind... and then shoots the guard, allowing Sandra to catch up to her so she can whisk her off.
Sometime a little later, Erica takes Sandra to see her boss Marino, played by Adamson regular Kent Taylor, who had conceived the plan to spring Sandra from jail. He wants her to join his mob which runs prostitutes and thieves and he puts her in charge of his assassination division. Her first job is to head up the assassination of an important client who also uses his hookers... so Sandra and Erica persuade the film’s main protagonist, a sex worker called Donna (played by Susie Ewing), to slip the client a pill to make him groggy under the pretext that they need some incriminating photos of him and to signal them to come into his place when he slips under. Unknown to Donna, though, is the fact that Erica knows he has a weak heart and this pill will finish him off... which it soon does. However, while Sandra and Erica are driving the corpse away, Donna decides to split and heads off on the road to Mexico, to hide with a friend of her sister.
So that’s all just the main set up and... this is where the movie takes its split away from any expectations you might have been having about what kind of film it was going to be and suddenly turns into a chase movie for the rest of its running time. And there are all kinds of shenanigans once Donna forces the pursuing Sandra and Debbie off the road. Almost everybody in this film is dogged with bad luck. Their cars keep breaking down in the desert, or a car is stolen or a truck runs out of gas. After escaping an old man played by Robert Livingston (from The Naughty Stewardesses and Blazing Stewardesses, both of which you can find reviewed by me here), who captures Donna to have sex with his backwards, hill-billy son (who doesn’t even understand what sex is), she eventually ends up trying to get to the nearest inhabited town with a guy called Chuck (played by Preston Pierce from Angel’s Wild Women, which I reviewed here), but the two hit gals catch up with them and have an old cowboy movie style shoot out in the rocks (which of course, comes very naturally to Adamson given his family lineage and sensibilities... read my review on the outstanding documentary about his bizarre life here for more details on that). I won’t say much about the twists and turns of the ending but I will say that very few characters survive the film and leave it at that... which seems to be a pattern in Adamson’s work from this period, it seems to me. I think these movies have a bleak, nihilistic tone to them which I suspect, from the stories told by the people who loved working with him, didn’t necessarily reflect his personal outlook.
That being said, I understand he really didn’t get on all that well with porn actress Georgina Spelvin on this shoot, especially since she refused (not unreasonably in terms of health and safety I suspect) to do certain scenes in the original planned demise of her character. That being said, due to her career in pornography, she is able to provide the kind of nude scenes associated with this kind of movie, although Adamson always seemed uneasy with shooting them, it seems to me. So, for instance, there’s a scene where Erica and a topless Sandra get in a fist fight and take out three guys before stealing their car, which was nicely staged and looks good on film. There’s also a scene where she’s sexually riding the old guy’s backward son and, just as he reaches orgasm, she blows his brains out with her six shooter. So, yeah, she was obviously down with the nude scenes (as is Susie Ewing in one memorable moment) but, well lets just say that Adamson never worked with her again on a project.
The film has the occasional interesting photographic flourish reminiscent of some of Adamson’s earlier films where he was using ‘future famous’ cinematographers... like a shot through a wine glass half covering the face of a corpse... but mostly the film is very much a road movie and there’s a more kinetic and ‘just shoot what you can get’ feel to the proceedings. Surprisingly, though, this doesn’t do the film any harm and I have to say I was quite taken with Girls For Rent. I could see this one doing really well as a double bill with something like the Japanese classic Sex And Fury and I may well show those together myself for some friends one day. One of Adamson’s more interesting movies, for sure, in a career which, so far for me, has proven to be full of ups and downs. However, the movies were usually so cheap to make that they did rack up huge profits and I believe the same can be said of this one.
Wednesday, 21 July 2021
The Brave And The Gold
Doctor Who -
Revenge Of The Cybermen
Airdate: 19th April - 10 May 1975
BBC 1 - Region 0 Blu Ray Four Episodes
Well... Revenge Of The Cybermen is another Doctor Who story from my youth which in no way lived up to either my memories or my expectations of it. That being said it’s still better than the two stories which preceded it.
Starting off with The Doctor (Tom Baker), Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen) and Harry (Ian Marter) swirling in space and still holding the time ring they recovered at the end of Genesis Of The Daleks (reviewed here), the three arrive back at Nerva some thousands of years since they departed, when it was still a manned beacon. However, there is very little crew left because they’ve all died from a ‘plague’ which, in good old Cybermen style from a previous story, is really the little, sneaky, rat-like Cybermats biting and poisoning various crew members.
It doesn’t take long for Sarah Jane to get bitten so The Doctor sends her and Harry down to the planet Voga, where age old enemies of the Cybermen live in a cave system (actually Wookey Hole in real life), to unscramble her molecules and separate her from the alien poison. However, Sarah and Harry get stuck down there as prisoners of one of two opposing factions of Vogons while, on Nerva, The Doctor has to track down a human double agent and then try and stop a rocket full of Cybermen (allergic to gold, as always) from destroying Voga. So there’s lots of running around on stripped down versions of the Nerva sets from Ark In Space (reviewed here) plus the caves on the planet and... it’s fairly entertaining but it’s not exactly a roller coaster, to be sure. James Bond fans take note, the shoe brush transmitter that the double agent uses here is exactly the same one previously used in Live And Let Die... which Roger Moore sold to the props department more by accident than by design, since he was trying to just give it to them.
Okay, so there’s good, there’s bad and there’s ludicrous. The bad and ludicrous being the dead bodies of the plague victims that litter the floors of the corridors of certain sections of Nerva. I mean, I know I’m now watching this on a high definition Blu Ray but, surely, even then people could tell these were shop window dummies which were, it has to be said, badly placed with their faces turned away from the camera and the joints in the wrists, that hang from unnatural angles from their brittle limbs, clearly visible. Note to set dressers... dead people’s heads don’t raise up slightly from the floor because they are connected to a slightly angled torso. This is really not selling things guys... are extras really that expensive?
And if you want really bad... when a rocket is launched from the subterranean caves of Voga, directed at Nerva, the footage use of it taking off looks nothing like it and is, brazenly, stock footage of a clearly marked NASA rocket departing from Cape Canaveral (or Kennedy... or whatever it’s was called in the 1960s/70s).
The good is... the Cybermen themselves. Tom Baker was only the third of the, then, four Doctors, to find himself up against these creatures. Previously, only the first Doctor and, especially, the second Doctor had fought them in the 1960s version of the show, on a number of occasions. This is also the cybermen's only story from the 1970s, since they wouldn’t get another crack at The Doctor, with a shocking and unexpected consequence for viewers of the time, until the 1980s and the Peter Davison story Earthshock (note, the third Doctor did finally get to meet them many years later when he returned for the special anniversary episode, The Five Doctors). They were completely overhauled for Earthshock in terms of their design and, since the costumes from the Troughton years had not survived the ages, they were rebuilt for this story too, although they do look pretty similar to the versions seen in such stories as The Invasion. This was also the first time they were seen in colour but, with the interior set designs on the spaceships pretty minimal, they do look like they are being shot on black and white stock in some shots... which is nice.
There are also some nice little stabs at humour here including a typical see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil moment when The Doctor and two other prisoners are waiting to find out their fate. We also get to see The Doctor spinning his yo-yo when he is being trans-matted down to Voga. Plus... you know... the jelly babies make another appearance, once again.
One of the things I noticed on this story in particular is that, in the replay of the last few minutes before the previous cliffhanger at the start of each episode, some pretty hefty cuts and also additions make their way into the scenes... it’s almost like watching the old Saturday Morning Pictures serials again (not that I’m old enough to have ever seen those actually at the cinema... mores the pity).
Having discovered recently the basic plot of Gerry Davis’ original story for this, I have to say that... although this particular plot line would have been great with Troughton in it, I’d have much preferred to see the previous incarnation of the script filmed, where Nerva is basically a space casino. As it is, though, this would be the last time Davis would write anything for the show.
What this story does highlight, once again, is how good Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen and Ian Marter are together. The dialogue for their characters is excellent and the chemistry between these particular ‘companions’ is strong. Something which wasn’t always a guarantee in the show, by a long shot.
And that’s me about done with Revenge Of The Cybermen, apart from perhaps making the comment that, for a race of cyborgs who have stripped themselves of all emotion... why the heck would they want revenge? They certainly don’t seem to here and that makes a kind of mockery of the title. Interestingly, the last episode finishes with yet another ‘lead in’ to The Doctor’s next adventure which, alas, isn’t on Blu Ray as yet, it’s sad to say.
Tuesday, 20 July 2021
The Invisible Man's Revenge
Directed by Ford Beebe
Universal Blu Ray Zone A
The Invisible Man’s Revenge is what I would call the last ‘pure’ film in Universal’s original classic take on the characters and concepts from H. G. Wells much abused source novel, The Invisible Man. And it’s also a very strange one at that.
For starters, the titular character is back to being the film’s antagonist again but, considering the other characters in the film, it’s hard to pinpoint who the main protagonist is in this... even the romantic male lead, who to my mind looks almost exactly the same as the feller playing the invisible man in this, kind of gets overpowered at the end and has to be rescued by a dog.
The film headlines Jon Hall, which is a strange one in itself because, two years prior to this, he’d played the main, heroic protagonist of the previous film in the series, Invisible Agent (reviewed here). Here, though, he’s an unmistakable and unapologetic villain. It’s revealed very early on in the film that’ he’s psychotic and escaped a mental hospital after killing two people there. When he arrives in London to see his two friends, Sir Jasper and Irene Herrick, a husband and wife played by Lester Matthews and Gale Sondergaard, he proceeds to attempt to blackmail them for his half of the diamond mine he’d found with them years before. Thing is though, he appears to be absolutely right and, honestly, there are barely any actual ‘good’ characters in this movie except for, perhaps, the daughter of the Herricks, played by Universal monsters semi-regular actress Evelyn Ankers.
Anyway, a curious thing to note that, perhaps due to legal reasons (I have no idea), Hall’s character name is Robert Griffin. Griffin is, of course, the last name of the character in the Wells novel and is a surname which usually crops up in these to cement the relationship between other family members and the current ‘invisible man’. Here though, the character has no connections whatsoever to any of the former Griffins so, yeah, baffling. In fact, it’s only because he stumbles into a stray scientist, played by Universal horror regular John Carradine, that he ends up becoming invisible in the first place... and therefore better equipped to start a reign of terror on his former ‘friends’ and attempt to swindle them out of, well, what is technically rightfully his anyway. It’s all a bit of a mess, to be honest.
Adding to the confusion, at least to my mind, is the fact that we have a purely psychotic character, played to the hilt as such and liable to flip his mood on a dime at any second... but he’s befriended by a down on his luck, comedy relief local, played by the famous Leon Errol. Errol was top lining gazillions of his own comical shorts throughout the 1930s to the 1950s and was a huge comedy star. What he’s doing in this, playing exactly the same kind of bumbling comedy character, is a mystery to me. There’s even a scene where he takes on a bet in a local pub as to being an ace darts player and we get a whole comedy routine where the ‘unseen’ and invisible Griffin is grabbing the darts and guiding them into the bullseye from all kinds of silly trick shot throws. It’s a bizarre and somewhat out of place scene which, nicely done as it is, seems uneasily out of kilter with the black hearted Griffin, who very soon in the film kills Carradine’s scientist and drains him of his blood to regain his visibility, just so he can attract the attention of Anker’s character.
It has to be said, the character here is fairly monstrous... almost as much as Claude Rains portrayal of the original Griffin in The Invisible Man (reviewed here). So, yeah, perhaps the studio felt you needed some strong comic relief to go with it but, as I said, it makes for an uneasy marriage here.
The film is directed by Ford Beebe, who also directed such great Universal theatrical serials as Flash Gordon’s Trip To Mars (reviewed here), Buck Rogers (reviewed here) and Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe (reviewed here). There’s nothing really flashy about his direction here, it’s merely competent and pacey, which perhaps is his strength as a director but, not so much that he is particularly noted for rising to ‘star director’ status over the years, it seems to me.
Composers Hans J. Salter, William Lava and Eric Zeisl are on scoring duties and, it’s okay. It does that very interesting thing where, when you see a packing crate arriving on the docks which says London, it lapses into a paraphrase of a patriotic tune associated with the English. I recognised the tune but can’t quite place it’s name but, yeah, this is a device which I’ve heard Elmer Bernstein point out in a documentary... that it’s a huge intellectual leap to make in musical scoring because it re-enforces the scene setting in the minds of the audience at an almost subconscious level.
And there’s really not much more I can offer on The Invisible Man's Revenge. It’s probably the least interesting one in the franchise and the Invisible Man would not return to the screen from Universal until two separate encounters with Abbot and Costello. And, yes, reviews of those two particular films will be forthcoming here at some point soon too.
Monday, 19 July 2021
The Chi Sei Girls
Beyond The Door
aka Chi Sei?
aka The Devil Within Her
Directed by Ovidio G. Assonitis
and Robert Barrett
Arrow Blu Ray Zone B
Warning: Some spoilerage ensues!
I bought this one in an Arrow sale at the urging of my friend @cultofcinema. He knows me well enough to know that if he recommends me something slightly off kilter which is shot in an interesting manner, chances are I’ll like it. And I have to say, this one is absolutely brilliant in that it’s got some nice cinematography and it’s completely bug nuts crazy! So he gets a gold star for this one.
The film starts off with a black screen and a voice over narrative addressing the audience, which immediately made me think of the Edward Van Sloan opening or closing warnings on Universal’s original Dracula (this scene now sadly lost from that production) and Frankenstein. Turns out the guy speaking to us is the devil, inviting the audience to watch the proceedings and reminding us to look out, the person sitting next to us watching the film could be him. As the voice over continues for a bit, the screen pans onto loads of lighted candles in the darkness and, after more camera movement, we come across main protagonist/partial antagonist Jessica (played by Juliet Mills... as in sister of Hayley and daughter of John... so a lady from a very distinguished acting family).
Jessica is standing in a darkened room with her eyes closed. As the camera zooms in on her she opens her eyes and we see what she is looking at... a naked lady spread-eagled in a pentagram whose features suddenly turn into someone very much like Richard Johnson before changing back to the girl. She runs out on the ceremony. As it happens, Richard Johnson was actually standing next to her, looking on. He plays Dmitri and, as he leaves the scene, he talks with the devil in his head, who causes him to crash his car off a cliff to his demise. However, the devil keeps his spirit alive in partial physical form for ten years, so he can bring the future 'Satan’s spawn' into the world when Jessica is carrying it. It’s a bit confusing to be honest but, then the titles start and we’ve jumped ten years.
And the titles are brilliant. Crosscutting between Juliet and her two obnoxious, foul mouthed children as they go grocery shopping and scenes of her husband in a recording studio, as he records the music which is the soundtrack to these credits. Twice he stops the music and it cuts back to him in the studio before the credits continue... and that’s nicely done, with his last stop coordinating with a stop light signal as Jessica drives her car. Her husband, Robert, is played by writer/director/actor Gabriele Lavia, who I best remember for his appearances in three Dario Argento movies, especially as the irritating young musician who is friends with David Hemming’s character in Profondo Rosso (aka Deep Red, reviewed here)... you know, the one who it turns out isn’t the killer after all.
And from here on the film plays out as a complete, post-modern patchwork quilt of movies such as The Exorcist, The Omen, Rosemary's Baby, poltergeist movies, haunted doll movies... pretty much any supernaturally themed movie trope they could think of is shoved in here and, in spite of this, the movie still is thoroughly entertaining... as Juliet’s mysterious new pregnancy sees her becoming increasingly hostile and irritated until she reaches the ‘full on Linda Blair’ stage of demonic possession and Dimitri forces himself on the family, much to the chagrin of the family doctor.
So we have objects and people thrown around rooms like many a poltergeist themed movie. We have dolls walking around on their own. We have a demonically influenced truck which nearly runs over Robert, like in an Omen film. And talking of The Omen, one of the kids is obviously not quite right, which is confirmed in a twist ending where he’s revealed to have Midwych Cuckoo-like glowy eyes... which I won’t say anything about here... partially because I don’t want to spoil it for you but mostly because it makes absolutely no sense within the context of the rest of the movie and contradicts everything we’ve seen throughout the film. And then there are so many shades of The Exorcist, starting off quite subtly when Jessica starts vomiting blood, in a wonderful bathroom set which has white walls and red bathroom fittings (I guess the sink doesn’t show up the blood, at least). But I figured something must be up with her when she starts occasionally talking in a gravelly man’s voice, which sounds like a low rent version of Mercedes McCambridge. And then there’s that time when, in her sleep, her eyes both open but her left eye looks straight ahead while her right eyes looks around all over the place like she’s some kind of ultra distressed Ben Turpin... this is a charmingly unsettling scene, I might add. Or that moment when she stands up from the bed and starts floating across to the other side of the room. Of course, the 180 degree headspin moment is a dead give away as to how things are going with her. Yes, it’s not long before she’s vomiting green slime from her mouth and flicking it around at people while attacking them with her mind powers. It’s all in here.
All this and some lovely shot set ups too. Asides from Richard Johnson suddenly popping up in mirrors etc we have a scene where he’s watching Gabriele Lavia in a restaurant. Johnson’s on the inside, watching through the big glass doors and Lavia is on a balcony table. When he sees Johnson we cut to a shot of Johnson to the window in the right of the screen and the strong reflection of Lavia watching him back in the left of the screen. Cool stuff. Alas, not all of the best shots made it into the picture, it turns out...
When I watched the trailer, after my friend recommended it to me, the absolutely amazing shot which sold the film to me was one where Lavia is walking in long shot towards the camera in a street in San Francisco (the exteriors were all shot by one director there while the interiors were shot by the other director in Rome... don’t ask me why). He is walking in the right hand quarter of the screen and the shot is split, clearly delineated by the lampposts and street signs which create a vertical to partition him off from the rest of the street. Then, at the end of the shot, as he approaches the vicinity of the camera view, he moves into the left of the frame to grab a newspaper. It’s wonderful but, alas, in the film itself, only the last little bit of the shot, where he crosses into the left, remains in the film. Which is a shame so, watch the trailer if you get a chance, it’s a fantastic piece of cinematography and frame design absent from the final cut.
The films also totally ‘brings the crazy’... as if all the demonic, supernatural tropes colliding wasn’t enough for you. There’s a scene where Robert takes a walk and a street guitarist starts playing the soundtrack of him walking, in a strange moment where the diegetic and non-diegetic exist simultaneously. Then, as the song Roberto’s Theme (which I’d already heard on the wonderful Easy Tempo Volume 4 compilation album) plays out as his soundtrack, various street musicians follow him and get in his face with their flutes and so on, harassing him with their cool and mellow vibes in about as threatening a manner as you can imagine a musician could and still play their instrument. It’s just totally bizarre and almost worth a watch just for that scene alone.
There are some nice referential nods too. I mean, goodness knows why, when her two children are sent away, their poster of choice on the walls is Andy Warhol’s soup can painting but, when they pack their bags they get tins of Campbell’s Pea Soup from the drawers... um, strange behaviour for children but a nice literal reference to The Exorcist at least. Warner Brothers must have thought so too because they sued the company for copying their film and got ‘an undisclosed sum’ for their trouble. Perhaps they could see the box office take because... and I really wasn’t expecting this... the film was a huge success in Italy and made a load of money. Indeed, Mario Bava’s Shock was also marketed as Beyond The Door II on occasion to get people in, even though it’s not an actual sequel (although I can see some thematic commonalities) and there was even a Beyond The Door III, which was similarly unconnected, from what I can make out.
And that’s me done on this one. Beyond The Door is a totally bonkers movie which I will try and foist upon my most unsuspecting friends when I get a chance. I’m really grateful for the recommendation on this one and I thought everything about it was just a little bit odd, off kilter or plain daft... which is a recipe for an interesting cinematic dish in my opinion. I'll definitely be watching this one again at some point... preferably when I can get the opportunity to inflict it on others.
Sunday, 18 July 2021
Room With A Boo
Escape Room -
Tournament Of Champions
aka Escape Room 2
USA 2021 Directed by Adam Robitel
UK cinema release print.
Warning: Spoilers as to the survivors of the first movie etc and a couple for this one too.
Escape Room - Tournament Of Champions is the sequel to the same director’s earlier film, Escape Room (reviewed here) which I didn’t know was so well liked. I think I gave it an okay review, if memory serves but I hadn’t realised that the first one was shot for 9 million dollars and made over 150 million back. So of course they were going to make a sequel.
After a brief recap at the start, this film sees the return of the two survivors of the previous movie, Zoe, played by Taylor Russell and Ben, played by Logan Miller. It’s made clear in a couple of ways that the two are still suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and it begins properly with Zoe talking to her psychiatrist. And, I have to say, this is the one scene in the movie which is a bit of a disappointment because something happens here which, unless you’re asleep, pretty much tips off a big element of the end twist of the movie. I was waiting for a certain reveal to drop and... oh yeah, it certainly did. But that’s the only really bad thing about the movie and, as for the rest of it, it makes for a really solid, suspense filled thriller, just like the first one.
One thing it doesn’t do, though, is make good on the ‘aeroplane’ ending of the first film, where Zoe and Ben are going to track down the MINOS company and try to reveal them to the world. Instead, it’s revealed that they tried but Zoe has a fear of flying and so, after a while into this one, they drive to New York and, by a bizarre, wafer thin thread of coincidences, suddenly find themselves on an underground train which is uncoupled, diverted and then becomes the new Escape Room starting area. It turns out their fellow passengers in that carriage are all previous survivors of MINOS Escape Rooms and they are now all in this together, playing to survive.
And, the formula is pretty much the same as the first film from hereon in... with some bigger sets with different themes to the rooms this time... such as a bank or a beach with a lighthouse. Zoe, being the brightest spark there, also finds an alternative route out of one of the rooms but her escape is short lived as she and her fellow escapee manage to get pulled back into the next room by a really obvious ploy... but, still, it makes for a fun film and the suspense and tension in the movie makes for some real ‘edge of the seat’ stuff. Which is good because, like the first one, the various kills in this are pretty much bloodless and although it’s implied some nasty stuff happens... and there’s the odd long shot where you can’t see any real details to a couple of deaths... the film swerves away from getting into any gory details (which it could have easily have done if it was going for a higher rating).
There’s also what amounts to a nice extended cameo (which could well stretch into further films) by another actor returning from the first movie... but nothing more on that from me here, don’t want to spoil that one for you. And one of the nice things about the movie is that, again a little bit of a spoiler, it’s got more or less the same ending as the previous movie on this one but, this time, the writers have given themselves no way out for a possible sequel starter... all I’m saying is, the next one will definitely have to start (or more accurately continue) on an aeroplane.
At one point I thought I spotted a mistake in the film but, given the way this one ends, it may have been a deliberate thing. On a news broadcast, it’s stated that four bodies had been found in the warehouse where the events of this movie are alleged to have taken place (bloody huge, high tech warehouse if that’s the case). However, in a certain scene during in the movie, surely two of the bodies were melted... so how could they have been found? So, yeah, not sure but maybe the explanation for that will turn up in the next one.
Other than that... not much more to say on this one other than it was a solid sequel and I had a way more fun and harrowing time than I would normally from a film that’s rated PG13 in the US (and 15 over here, although how the BBFC can justify such a steep rating on this one is anyone's guess... there’s no blood or gore people!). Especially since, again like the first one, the teenagers in the movie are actually likeable people and you are rooting for them, rather then wishing they’d hurry up and die (like a lot of teen targeted movies these days). If you liked the first movie then Escape Room - Tournament Of Champions really shouldn’t disappoint you too much and you’ll probably like the sequel just as much. I do now find myself hoping for a third installment of this franchise at some point soon so, yeah, I hope this one does really well at the box office too.
Thursday, 15 July 2021
aka Le Daim
Directed by Quentin Dupieux
UK cinema release print.
Warning: Spoilers in this one.
Deerskin is the latest movie from Quentin Dupieux, the writer/director of the wonderful killer tyre movie Rubber (reviewed here). I’ve been wanting to see whatever his next film would be for quite some time so imagine my surprise when, on looking this one up, I found he’s done a fair few since then. Seriously, the UK is the worst for distributing real movies... instead preferring to just load up the cinemas with superhero theatrics to the exclusion of all else, it seems.
Deerskin stars the wonderful Jean Dujardin as Georges, who we see is a man who is ‘not quite right’ in the opening sequence, when he drives to a roadside service station and attempts to flush his jacket down the toilets there. We then see him drive to an old guy’s home and purchase from him, for an obscenely large amount of money, a well preserved deerskin jacket. It becomes his life and, shortly after Georges checks into a hotel and delays paying for the room by using his gold wedding ring as a security, we realise he has fled his marriage and, also, that he’s been blocked from his joint bank account.
He doesn't care... he’s all about the jacket and he strikes up a friendship with the girl serving drinks at the local bar, before trying out his new digital cam recorder, which was thrown in with the huge amount of money he paid for the jacket. Georges starts talking for the jacket as the power of the jacket consumes his mind and clings to the idea that he’s a filmmaker, making a film about ridding the world of all other jackets other than his precious, deerskin jacket... which is the shared dream of both him and his jacket. The local bar girl, Denise (played by Adèle Haenel), is also an aspiring filmmaker and Georges cons her, at first, into editing his footage. When she comes into some money, in a bizarre moment which I think begs to be ‘read between the frames' as to her own motivation and tenacity, she takes over production and starts telling him what she needs to make the story better. By this point she’s seen the footage as Georges kills people in order to remove their jackets from the world and she spurs him on, as he pulls apart a fan blade in his room, sharpens it up by scraping the sparking object along the road as he drives... and uses it as a machete to kill numerous people who he rids of their jackets, so he can bury them in a hole in the ground, never to be seen again (the jackets, not the people).
And it's a slow burn of a film which had me laughing out loud at a fair few the off kilter moments in the movie. This isn’t as extreme as Rubber but it’s certainly not traditional storytelling, although it does use a standard narrative framework more to get the ideas across. Dujardin is absolutely brilliant as the ‘not quite there’ deranged lead and Adèle Haenel is equally brilliant as the young ‘editor’. The two share some good chemistry on screen and you get the feeling that Denise is the only one safe from Georges particular brand of ‘strange’.
One of the things I loved was an amazing piece of scoring which ran throughout, which I’m guessing was by composer Janko Nilovic, despite there being a fair few needle drops on the soundtrack. The music is just a little overpowering and often slightly inappropriate to the scenes and I’m pretty sure this is deliberate. It sounded exactly like what Godard was doing in films like Contempt (Le Mépris), where the music would deliberately pop you out of the music and tell you something was overly wrong or dramatic when, it obviously wasn’t. So in this, even when Georges does or says something vaguely odd, the music comes in powerfully to comment ostentatiously on the visuals.
Another thing I liked is the subtlety of the way the deerskin jacket takes over George’s mind. At first we just see George talking his words and, when he’s talking for the jacket, the rack focussing is changed so his lips are softened within the shot. This contrasts with much later when Georges is asleep in bed but his voice is calling him as the jacket eventually wakes him up... good stuff and a nice touch.
The film looks clean and though it has its violent moments, it’s mostly done in a ‘matter of fact’ way where it’s being seen through a video camera or with the victims in long shot... although there is one lovely scene played for comic effect where a random woman in her car is stabbed downwards through her head via the roof of the car and Georges goes through the process of stealing her jacket as his makeshift machete holds her in place. It’s about the goriest part of the film but even this moment is not over the top and only a bit of blood seen running down her motionless face is shown.
I’ve seen this movie has had some bizarrely bad reviews and all I can think of is, perhaps, that the subtle, almost minimal style of the film and the way it leisurely unfolds the small details of its story is perhaps a little too much for some of the younger, less patient viewers. This is not to say it’s slow in any way but the pacing is definitely not Hollywood blockbuster mentality so maybe that’s why the movie is getting low score reviews. For myself, I thought Deerskin was great and I’m hoping this one will get a UK Blu Ray release at some point down the line. Easily one of the better films I’ve seen at the cinema this year, for sure.
Wednesday, 14 July 2021
Purge, Less Merry Death*
The Forever Purge
Directed by Everardo Gout
UK cinema release print.
Warning: Some light spoilerage, perhaps.
Seems like, no matter what I’m looking at for this blog, it’s inevitable that at some point I’ll be reviewing another Purge movie. The Forever Purge is the fifth and, possibly, the final film of The Purge franchise (to date, I can’t help but think this isn’t over yet) and I’ve had a kind of love/hate relationship with the series of films since the beginning. The concept of a film where, for a 12 hour period each year, the people of America are encouraged to kill and rob each other as an outlet to keep crime figures low, was originally inspired by the old, classic Star Trek episode The Return Of The Archons (which I think is yet another episode where Kirk blows up a computer). The films are technically slick doses of ‘designer grimy’ ultra-violence which are a double edged sword because, they are genuinely scary to people like me and remind me that weapons of all kind are to be feared. And while that general message of the films, that violent conflict is bad, is usually pushed... at the same time, they also revel in that violence and its always my fear that there is a significant faction of the audience who respond to these as the glorification of violence. Either reaction is fine to an extent, films are entertainment and they’re also art... doing what art does... but the little bit of the Venn diagram of viewers who overlap into actually acting out this stuff in real life are the ones that worry me... especially in the heightened, sensitive state the world seems to have entered over the last five years or so.
So The Forever Purge follows the original The Purge (reviewed here) which had probably the best and more high profile actors... it introduced the audience to the concept and it was okay but, a little mean spirited for my liking and, ultimately, just a little worrying that audiences responded so favourably to it. Then we got the direct sequel, The Purge - Anarchy (reviewed here) which really upped its game, giving us a great, entertaining movie reminiscent of those old, early 1970s hard-edged, violent science-fiction thrillers. I loved this one and the next sequel, The Purge - Election Year (reviewed here) was also pretty good, following a politician’s attempts to finally bring an end to these ridiculous purges. Then we had the prequel, The First Purge (reviewed here), which was a real low point of the series as far as I am concerned. It tried to tackle the racism inherent in society but in such a way that anybody white was evil and everybody else was good. It’s probably one of the most racist movies I’ve seen but, hey, some people liked it and I’m tolerant of that. Tolerance seems to be a key ingredient which is missing from most youngsters vocabulary these days and... yeah, that’s the scary thing.
The Forever Purge, set after the annual purge has been reinstated (which may be something covered in the recent TV show of The Purge, I haven’t seen that yet), also tackles racism but does it really well and smartly, bringing home the message that everyone should be treated equally. This one involves three main protagonists and their friends and family. We have Juan, played by Tenoch Huerta, who illegally crosses into America, fleeing the drug cartels of Mexico, in the film’s pre-credits sequence... along with his lover, the truly kick-ass Adela, played by the remarkable Ana de la Reguera... who is honestly the best thing about this film. Her background story is that she used to be part of a resistance group fighting the drug cartels before things just got too hot to stay in Mexico. Now Juan works in a ranch owned by Dylan and his father.
Dylan’s father is played by the always watchable Will Patton. As soon as I saw he was in the movie I was pretty sure that one of two things could happen with his character. Either he’d be nice to everyone and then, in the final act, turn out to be the mastermind villain behind whatever trouble is being caused in this one or he would have a stand up, doing what’s right moment and be the first victim of the film, to motivate the other characters. And... sure, one of these two things does indeed happen.
Dylan himself is played by Josh Lucas and he doesn’t really like Juan. He’s one of those ‘I’m not racist but...’ kind of people but, when he talks about this near the end of the movie, he’s pitched in and the two characters have each other’s back in a respectful bonding series of moments... just like you know they would, as they grow tolerant of each other (there’s that word again) and work together to get the rest of their people to safety. It’s pretty clear that Dylan wouldn’t have made it out of America alive if it weren’t for Juan and Adela. Wait, what? Get out of America? Okay, here’s the next twist on a franchise which is just about managing to reinvent itself in each installment.
This film initially takes place in Texas, just before and during the annual purge, just like the others. It does the usual set ups and then the violence begins and, before you know it, maybe half an hour into the movie, the purge runs its course and finishes the next day at 7am. Woah.... that was quick, I thought. What happened to the rest of the film? Then we find that a very large, organised bunch of racists who are intent on carrying on the purge forever are overrunning the country with the express purpose of purifying it for ‘true americans’ and killing all the immigrants etc. After rescuing the majority of Dylan’s people from a bunch of ranch workers and then reuniting with Adela, it’s up to Juan and his friends to get everybody to the Mexican border before it’s shut, as it’s been opened to fleeing Americans for a few hours as the whole of America becomes one huge civil war zone, with the military and police crumbling to the ‘Forever Purgers’. So it’s a race to get to the border while they are allowed into Mexico.
And it’s a well put together movie. It says a lot about the violence and wrong people do each other while, as it always does, presenting that violence in as visceral and suspenseful way as it can. There’s a truly terrifying moment when Adela and her friend are locked in the back of a police van with two purgers and the big bear of a guy in there with them starts identifying all the different guns shots being fired on the street and then conducting them like an orchestra as the different noises bring their own percussive rhythms. It only lasts for maybe a minute or, possibly, two but it’s the sequence in the movie for me which really brings home the terrifying message that there are idiots out there who are totally into all the violence and chaos and, yeah, for me the message of the films is blown up larger than life right here. It also has an old school ‘cowboys and indians’ style shoot out in the desert by the Mexican border too, at the end so, yeah, it strays into Western territory a little... which is cool.
The film is totally entertaining and, despite some really low IMDB review scores, which I suspect says a hell of a lot more about the people writing the reviews than it does the film itself (are people really this afraid of racial equality being pushed as a message?), I think it’s one of the best films in the series. I also like how it ushers in the end of the American way of life while also giving hope, if you can call it that, of a sequel... as it’s hinted that a full on civil war has begun in the US as people start fighting back against the ‘forever purgers’. Note to the censorous BBFC though... I really don't need to be warned in the certification that the film contains 'racism.' Honestly, if people are that dumb and sensitive that they feel they need to be warned about it, they shouldn't be allowed to look at any kind of art in the first place.
And not much more to say than that, other than The Forever Purge is a nice place to wrap the series up if that happens and, if you’re already a fan of the films, then you should be pretty happy with the way this one goes down, I suspect. I would be happy to watch this and the others again at some point so I hope they release a five movie boxed edition of Blu Rays sometime soon.
*Yeah... I wish Burgess Meredith could be referenced in these films so my title would make more sense... but, what the hell, I did it anyway.