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Merrill's Marauders (1962)
An Exercise in Tension
The fact that the film has no discernable introduction is entirely in keeping with Sam Fuller's B Movie style direction. It jumps straight into the action, with Merrill's army platoon stationed somewhere in the middle of the Burmese jungle. While it was quite hard to suddenly have to familiarise oneself with about 20 different characters, and determine the complicated relationships between them, it allowed for an epic war movie to be refreshingly condensed to a bite-sized 95 minutes.
Merrill, his respected lieutenant, Stockton, and the rest of the boys spend the majority of the film in a sweat-drenched feverish confusion, which is so convincing, that you wonder what the director had to do to in order to produce such a performance from his actors. I have never seen so much agony and despair on the screen, as Merrill's men struggle through the seemingly endless swamps and mountains. Fuller adds to the attention by way of silent close-ups and good use of the location which suggests that anything might be around the corner, and it usually is.
The film truly shows the horrors of war and the effects on the minds of the people who fought it. If there is a fault, it comes in the form of a patriotic voice-over commentary which bookends the film at the start and the finish. Otherwise, this makes for thrillingly uncomfortable yet exhilarating viewing.
Proof that British Cinema needs to grow up
In the imaginary world of Paul Anderson, Jude Law, and Sadie Frost, England is a place where the cutting edge of fashion and music is shaped by delinquent car thieves, shouting expressions such as "'Ave it!" and "You tart!" as they fragrantly abuse the helpless authorities left in their wake. These three misguided reprobates have unfortunately made it to the forefront of British cinema, and along with the likes of Guy Ritchie and Ray Winstone have had a hand in destroying the proud heritage we previously had in the film world. Watch "Final Cut" to see the most indulgent of these malevolent collaborations.
It is a great pity, because beyond this obsession with Britain's non-existent glamorous underground, each of the members involved does have something to offer. Jude Law went on to do better things, such as "The Talented Mr Ripley", although he is fundamentally limited as an actor. The court is still out on Sadie Frost, although she lends her undeniable charm and beauty to anything she is involved with. The foundations that Paul Anderson would later build on in the excellent Event Horizon and Mortal Kombat are also evident. The techno soundtrack pounds along at the right moments to give the film some fluidity and cohesion, and has made good use of location and sets to represent an unnamed dilapidated English city, which evokes a slightly unrealistic, but eerie presence and atmosphere. Give these guys a proper education in the history of film, some maturity, and some understanding of the world around them, and we might just have a half-decent film in the future. But for now - it's back to school, boys and girls!
Vampire Circus (1972)
One to watch at a "League of Gentleman" theme night
The circus rolls into town to the soundtrack of spooky wind-up box music. Noone is quite sure where they came from, and the small minded villagers become increasingly suspicious. Throw in a painted face dwarf with an echoing manic laugh, and one of those "You will die, your children will die, your childrens' children will die, your childrens' ch..", and you will realise from where The League of Gentlemen TV series stole all its best jokes.
Besides the cliches, which are a Hammer Horror hallmark, the film is a superb addition to a genre much missed by both horror enthusiasts, and by fans of engaging British cinema. I especially enjoyed the circus chorography, which although very much of its time, was both sensual and picturesque. In the lack of a Van Helsing, the film suffers from having no charismatic lead characters. However, the oddballs in the circus provide enough entertainment to compensate. All in all, a few thrills, a few laughs. All round good 21st century revivalist entertainment.
Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
Best Beginning to a film.....EVER
People always talk about good endings in film, and a lot of these films stick in the mind (My personal favourites - The Third Man and Dark Star). By comparison, the beginning of a film is rarely talked about or remembered. The intro from Kiss Me Deadly, however, will forever be etched in my memory. From the opening shot with the solitary sound of footsteps, through to the pre-Star Wars title sequence, to the immortal lines "Remember me..." uttered by Cloris Leachman (who manages to almost steal the film with so little screen time), all this should act as a reminder of just how effective an intro sequence can really be if in the hands of a master. Then to the rest of the film, with a rollercoster ride of beatings, betrayals, double crosses, and all assortments of truly immoral characters, put together by one of the most pessimistic minds in cinema. In fact, there is hardly a character in the whole film with any redeeming features, as Aldrich paints a world full of self-serving inconsiderate rascals out all thirsting after the riches contained within Pandora's Box. At the time, I imagine that this film was seen as a post-modern homage to the film noir genre, in the same way that Scream was to 80's horror. Micky Spillane is essentially Sam Spade taken to the nth degree, with more wisecracks and more beatings piled in for good measure. It all adds up to a thoroughly enjoyable romp which should not be taken too seriously, whilst all the time admiring the technical genius at the helm. Wonderful stuff!
Last Orders (2001)
I went to catch Last Orders before the end of the film....
I entered the cinema with high expectations. After all, Fred Schepisi has proven to be a dependable director with a reasonable track record, and the cast included some of the biggest talents to be produced in British cinema in the last forty years. I left the cinema mortified that such talent could have been so indulgently wasted. I also questioned the validity of the Booker Prize. After all, Graham Swift's winning novel was the source of this 2 hour long tedious ordeal of a movie. The themes of old age regret and retrospection have been done very well in the past. Wild Strawberries and The Straight Story come to mind. However, whilst Victor Sjöström and Richard Farnsworth respectively showed great empathy with their characters, Last Orders comes off like a cynical ensemble piece. Especially guilty was Helen Mirren, possibly the most overrated British actress of our generation, and seemingly beyond reproach. She simply moped around the screen like a sulking child. Ray Winstone showed yet again that he has the acting range of an electric toothbrush. Bob Hoskins was the sole redeeming feature, but he alone could neither rescue proceedings nor prevent me walking out of the first film since Lethal Weapon 4. Truly Awful.