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Joshû 701-gô: Sasori (1972)
eye popping exercise in sex and violence
Fabulous Japanese exploitation from the early 70s. The beautiful Meiko Kaji was at her peak around this time, had already made the Stray Cat movies involving delinquent girls out for a good time, and made the two Lady Snowblood films in between the Scorpion outings. When I first encountered these extraordinary films, the titles made me think that there was just one with title variations and then as it dawned there were four getting them in order became a priority. Most people in the UK probably saw the second one first and that might just have the edge over this but there is no denying the power of this one. Some of the torture scenes are a bit grim and the tiresome and arduous demonstrations of power by the prison guards over the inmates (and between inmates) can be difficult but just short of unwatchable. On the positive side this is shot with such enthusiasm and vision that even the opening credits and the chase through the rushes is stunning. Other scenes are equally impressive with imaginative use of sets and lighting (to help conceal budgetary restrain) create an almost surreal atmosphere for this most eye popping exercise in sex and violence.
L'année dernière à Marienbad (1961)
Memories, memories. Even the word has a dreamlike lilt to it. Memories are usually fairly romanticised, more ideal than realistic, and yet. The older I get, the more refined and clear some memories become, until I wonder, have I even had this memory before? Of course, I have but there is no real way of checking. Photographs, of course. The camera never lies, ha! We rarely remember our dreams, perhaps just as well, but how then can our daytime memories be so certain? As we commonly understand them, memories, do not even exist. As we see in Resnais' remarkable film, a 'memory' can be a desperate attempt to place oneself where one may not have been. At worst, and I think there is an element of it here, 'memories' can be used to invent a past and dictate a future. Surely you remember loving me! You always said..... Fascinating subject, without memories we are nothing, great film.
The Ghost Writer (2010)
Not much evidence here of the hand of the master film maker
Not much evidence here of the hand of the master film maker, Roman Polanski. I realise this was made under very difficult circumstances and was edited whilst in jail in Switzerland but it is a rather dull, flat and dull affair. I have little interest in conspiracy theories and tend to steer clear of political drama, so this clearly was not going to have too much going for it, for me. It didn't help having watched Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice the night before, a film full of colourful layers and constant movement and wonderful visuals. Ewan McGregor puts in a workman like performance and similarly Pierce Brosnan but these are not charismatic performers and it is left to Kim Cattrall to provide the kind of nuanced performance that this film needed if it were to come alive.
Inherent Vice (2014)
Didn't even notice the length!
Whilst being a complete no, no for those who love a clearly mapped out and coherent narrative structure, for the rest of us, sit back and enjoy. Of course there are stunning moments where we shall have to sit up and thought there is both the Paul Thomas Anderson look of the thing plus his amazing control of numerous participants who all seem to give their all. Joaquin Phoenix is brilliant here, he completely inhabits his role and seems to force the rest of the film to go around him. Katherine Waters is a revelation and the scenes with the two of them crackle with excitement and anticipation. The whole complex rolling mass of a film that revels in its 1970 Californian setting amazes with the extent of the drug taking and how far it had permeated into many parts of American society as it never did in the UK. At times I felt I was sharing a spiff with the characters so dreamlike and surreal this swirling and spinning film is. Brilliant film making and great viewing experience. Didn't even notice the length!
Carry on Screaming! (1966)
I wouldn't like to speculate whether this is so good despite the presence of Sid James or because of it
Having just watched this on Blu-ray, I'm with the general consensus on this in that it is definitely one of, if not the best of the series. Everybody seems to be enjoying themselves and gives a very good performance. From his very first appearance, at the door of the mansion, Bernard Bresslaw is impressive and remains consistent throughout. Similarly Peter Butterworth, who can flop about a bit, is firm here and very amusing, especially when he gets the dress on. Charles Hawtrey, who I usually have a bit of a problem with, is here, a delight, even though he is in charge of the toilets and men's needs! Jim Dale is also fine in a central role but it is the combination of first Harry H. Corbett with the much abused, Joan Sims and then the magical sparks of electricity he shares coupled with the lovely Fenella Fielding. I wouldn't like to speculate whether this is so good despite the presence of Sid James or because of it but there is no denying the brilliance with which Harry H responds to the opportunities of this role. Fenella, herself, of course, is at her feline and seductive best. Not all the jokes are hilarious but there are enough that are and the general atmosphere, much helped by decent sets, ensure that this rushes along, ending far too soon and you sitting there with a smile on your face. Excellent.
a film for kids
This, surely is a film for kids. It seems to be a retro reinvention of those poorly filmed and badly copied videos that burst upon an unsuspecting populous in the eighties. This is for those who lament the passing of those days and more importantly is for those who were too young to indulge at the time. Youngsters, probably not unlike those cruelly depicted in the film itself. The film has been created to look awful, with bleary images and lens reflections, and contrived to depict such scenes as is believed was the mainstay in those far off days. Violence for laughs is the order of the day (sex, perhaps not surprisingly, given the times, sidelined) and the movie seems made for those who relish a late night screening of unspeakable horrors throughout which they can laugh like drains.
Nocturnal Animals (2016)
grabs you by the throat
Not sure how I missed this upon theatrical release, maybe there was something about the publicity I took against. Anyway seen it now and it is a great viewing experience. Involving from the start, well to be honest it grabs you by the throat to the extent that you cannot envisage the film going on for much longer, and continues in similarly involving scenes, if not quite so violent. I understand that director Tom Ford originally envisaged turning the book, upon which it is based, into two separate movies but settled for entwining the two stories. Intelligent and spot on script that involves us both in the terrible Texas scenes and the (awful in their own way) Los Angeles rich life moments. Amy Adams is excellent as the poor little rich girl with regrets for a life lost and Lake Gyllenhaal great in both his roles. There is ambiguity throughout but then that is always preferable to the blatantly obvious. I should also mention the masterful look that is established both in the arty farty Californian lifestyle moments and in the desert scenes with the interstate and those fantastic skies.
A Bigger Splash (2015)
This does not bode well for Suspiria
I have seen this before but was keen to remind myself how it measured up to Jacques Deray's 1969 original with Alain Delon and Rome Schneider, particularly bearing in mind this is directed by Luca Guadarnino whose remake of Suspiria is about to open. At first the heady mix of characters, run rough shod over by Ralph Fiennes, is interesting and although nobody seems likeable, to be forced to be in this company has some potency - bit like being on a group holiday with people you don't like but are going to have to get along with. Its all okay but Fiennes over the top performance grates more and more and with Tilda Swinton playing the most unlikeliest of characters (and without use of her voice!) things begin to become more than a little waring. On top of this the thing goes on far too long and with a ham fisted attempt to make the ongoing immigrant crisis relevant the cause is lost. This does not bode well for Suspiria.
Tenemos la carne (2016)
a powerful and driven depiction of physical extremes
I had rather expected some sort of Cronenberg inspired piece, so for once was very surprised indeed by what unfolded before me. Early on it reminded me of the 1969 Japanese film Blind Beast where a couple arranged themselves amidst a cavernous space formed from enlarged sculptures of physical forms. The couple become increasingly obsessive towards each other but things do not go as far as they do in this Mexican outing. I have heard it mentioned in the same breath as the films of Gasper Noe, compared to Eraserhead and also Pasolini's Salo, so you get the area we are coming from here. I would say this was more extreme and uncompromising and certainly more explicit. I understand the director was making a point, in this desperate depiction of degradation, that has its roots in Mexican society back to Aztec times and some basic conflagration of sex, death, pain and retribution. It is certainly a powerful and driven depiction of physical extremes that doesn't shy away from anything. So, be warned.
Dead of Winter (1987)
we see the classic glass of milk being taken up the stairs
Although this begins dramatically enough there is initially a bit of a lull while we are introduced to husband and brother. There is enough here during the non action to warn us that not all is going to be sweet and light. Indeed after the introduction of a rather sinister wheelchair bound Jan Rubes and a nervy Roddy McDowall we see the classic glass of milk being taken up the stairs and we just where we are going. Actually it is not quite as simple as that and I must confess that the last half hour or so are quite a treat. More complicated than at first it seemed and boy, once Rubes gets out of his chair, does that man go!
Night of the Demon (1957)
no objection to the monster from me
My Halloween film of choice this year and what could be better? Lovely new Blu-ray print of the BFI restoration and it has never looked better. Perfect film? I certainly cannot fault it and watching it once more scene after scene flow into and out of each other with no dull spots, no let up in the interest and tension. Helped enormously by composer Clifton Parker's score and immaculate script from old Hitchcock stalwart, Charles Bennett this starts so well (no objection to the monster from me!) and drives us headlong into a spine tingling world of coal fires, strange sects and fluttering pieces of paper. Dana Andrews and Peggy Cummins do the business, without any particularly startling effort and allow Niall MacGinnis to steal the scenes. Faultless, spellbinding and great to the very end (still no objection to the monster from me!).
a most riveting outing
Underestimated, partly because it barely fits the giallo category but is difficult to label in any other way. Also underrated, I suppose, because with the main character in a coma from the start, the film is essentially a flashback and there are few killings. However, this lovely looking film features the hypnotic Jean Sorel in the lead and the even lovelier Barbara Bach as his girlfriend. The coma based story may not sound exciting but this is a most riveting outing from Aldo Lado in his first directorial effort. Lots of happenings that surprise and perplex and the Kafkaesque nature of the piece appropriate, it being set in Prague. The Morricone soundtrack is mesmerising and when it merges with Sorel's heartbeat quite spine tingling. Many an odd incident such as the motionless beauty at the party, caressed and displayed, the odd club for older folk. Indeed that club that appears increasingly to have some significance despite all its members seeming to be happy just standing and listening to chamber music, turns out to be so much more. Some may find the pacing leisure, I found it fascinating and tense throughout and then there s the added bonus of the stunning denouement. Orgy, what orgy? Maybe it is witchcraft!
Touchez pas au grisbi (1954)
laid back film, beautifully shot
Rather laid back film, beautifully shot with motor vehicles traversing urban and rural roads, night club exteriors and interiors with more flesh than English films would have allowed and wondrous residential interiors with wrought iron banisters and passenger lifts and all their paraphernalia. Plus Jean Gabin strolling through this so effortlessly and with such a wry smile that it comes as a surprise when he lashes out. In one short scene he slaps both women and men one after the other. Neither is he slow when he fancies a kiss with one or other of the lovely looking ladies hanging around. He resists a beautiful and very young Jeanne Moreau but then that is his mate's girl and loyalty and a certain sense of morality are important here. There is a violent denouement that appears more Capone than Gabin but is effective nonetheless. Assured direction from Becker means this moves briskly and efficiently whilst presenting us with an essentially good looking picture of small time crooks trying to edge in on each other.
The Comfort of Strangers (1990)
essential viewing for the broadminded.
Even on the sunniest and warmest of days in Venice the old buildings rising up out of the murky waters and the narrow alleyways that go nowhere, the place can give rise to a feeling of unease, of foreboding. Here, with a stark script by Harold Pinter from the sinister story of Ian McEwan we are presented with a rather desperate couple, brilliantly played by Richardson and Everett and their salvation is Christopher Walken. Add Helen Mirren to the mix and you have a perfectly cast and perfectly set uncanny tale that whilst you know is going nowhere good you share the fascination of the innocent couple as they stumble to disaster. Wonderful evocation of Venice and a most unsettling tale, excellent direction from Schrader and effective music from Badalamenti make this essential viewing for the broadminded.
This is no Sunday afternoon fireside film
This is no Sunday afternoon fireside film but surely riveting and relentless as we follow the religious man from Grand Rapids and his Calvinist background in search of his daughter in the red light districts of Los Angeles, Santiago and San Fransisco. Not a pretty site but as the seediest stuff is shot outside and inside actual, sex shops and cinemas we are constantly having to adjust to the fact this is fiction and not documentary. The very laid back acting also adds to this potent sense of being there. Apparently seeming to drift at the start, the film gains momentum and apart from the abrupt and not entirely satisfactory ending a fascinating and involving piece of cinema. Oh, and George C Scott is excellent, eve if he looks uncomfortable at times and the wonderful Peter Boyle is wonderful.
one significant obstacle to completely enjoying this
I enjoyed this but there is one significant obstacle to completely enjoying this last Hammer Frankenstein film. Being slightly old fashioned and rudely pushed aside by The Exorcist is another reason this film tends to get ignored. It starts well, the set up in the insane asylum is good and all the inmates are overacting like mad but successfully convince of their insanity. The arrival of peter Cushing is dramatic and beautifully handled. Even though he doesn't look too well, with his gaunt and drawn features, as usual, he gives the part his all to great effect. Shane Brian is surprisingly good and certainly helps keep things going while the pretty Madeline Smith stands by somewhat tongue tied throughout (well almost throughout!). So, the one real obstacle to this being loved and cherished by all is the dreadful costume David Prowse is saddled with as the titular monster. Unforgivably bad and inexplicably ape like it is such a shame. Prowse does his best but it remains the only weak link in a colourful, surprisingly gory and eventful Hammer outing.
The Innocents (1961)
Very scary tale but not in the sense of things going bump in the night.
I have always had some difficulty with this film, often described as a truly great ghost story. Coming back to it again in a wonderful, startlingly beautiful b/w Blu-ray print, I bring to it memories of Michael Winner's much despised prequel, The Nightcomers. That film is often described as being full of nastiness and the corruption of innocence, its scenes of S&M which the children imitate, extremely bad taste. Ah, methinks, more than a little hint of hypocrisy here. That is The Innocents. I no longer see the ghost story. I see Deborah Kerr playing a character who transfers here worst fears into a tale of ghosts but none of the other characters see it that way. It is not obvious whether Jack Clayton intended ambiguity or not but to learn he had a troubled childhood does not persuade one to veer away from one's worst fears of the past (and present) corruption of the innocents. Very scary tale but not in the sense of things going bump in the night. Far worse.
The Raven (1963)
self indulgent tosh
Oh dear! I have to confess that it is good to see Karloff, Lorre and Price together and a young Jack Nicholson too, but did Matheson really write this? It begins slowly with Price reciting Poe and although we seem to be taking rather a long time over it, eventually Peter Lorre turns up in Raven disguise. So, things are about to hot up and get moving? Oh no they're not. More silly than amusing, nothing terrible happens, nothing scary, there is far too much silliness and although there is a certain charm to the look of the woods, the cliff path and the castle, it is essentially a fairy tale. A film for children but not one I could recommend to my granddaughters. Even at their young age they would seem to be far too sophisticated for this self indulgent tosh.
It is true to say there is not much of a story here, nobody in it who was a major star at the time and a writer/director who was still feeling his way in the industry. However, of such nothingness, comes magic. It is hard to point to this or that and say that is why this film works so well but essentially it is that Barry Levinson had written a script, partially based upon real incidents from his own life and got together a bunch of young actors who were happy to help make something happen that felt 'real' to them. The result is a slight tale of a bunch or kids, hanging out, discussing girls, sex and possible marriage and finding some clash between staying friends and 'growing up'. Funny, profound, beautifully grounded in the directors home town of Baltimore and simply a sheer delight to watch, with a persistent grin on your face. Simply perfect.
It is short, it is pretty but completely empty.
This is my second attempt at watching this and at least this time I stayed awake. It is a very slight tale starring a bunch of delightful young women and packed with vivid and varied visuals. Every still I have ever seen from this makes me want to give it another go. Almost every second of the film is a visual delight. But, where exactly is it all going? These constant surreal episodes of candy floss horror and innocent eroticism are interspersed with Scooby Doo moments as the girls go flying about the house in search of one another or something else. There is no logical progression from one sequence to another and this makes it very difficult to stay with. It is short, it is pretty but completely empty.
have you seen it recently?
It is strange coming back to a film you recall as being such a searing satire and finding it rather limp and old fashioned. Time has not been kind to the film, we never had the same TV network competition here in the UK as they had in the States and now most people seem to pop in and out for news headlines and snippets on their phone rather than sit down for an evenings tele watching prompted by your favourite news programme. This is no reason why the film should not work but for me it no longer does. It seems insulting to imagine a nation cheering madly and jumping up and down at the whim of some crazy man. For he is crazy, surely, and the point being that we should not be laughing at the afflicted. But then again, we are told how wonderful the broadcasts are. Unfortunately the dialogue provided is so silly and uninspiring that we wonder how this could ever have ben taken seriously. The 'relationship' between Holden and Dunaway is a case in point. It is introduced to us as a joke and we take it as such, only to realise some way in that this jokey interlude is supposed to be taken seriously. I don't think my Blu-ray disc is very kind to the main participants either. Finch really does look like a madman, Dunaway far too twitchy and worrying and Holden, well looks his age. Shame but this does not seem to have worn too well and it is now hard to believe, even now, how well it is spoken of. I feel prompted to ask those fans; have you seen it recently?
Bakumatsu taiyôden (1957)
A much loved film in its native country and surely worth a watch.
Not the easiest film for a non Japanese to follow and certainly not an easy one to review. I see I am the first to make any sort of attempt. There is always some difficulty with period films from Japan because we on the outside seem to have so little knowledge of that history and are immediately at a disadvantage. There is another difficult when it comes to comedy. So much Japanese humour seems to be derived from word play (as in England) and unfortunately if you are relying upon a subtitle translation inevitably there is going to be a problem with the subtlety being 'lost in translation'. Another obstacle for modern western viewers is what I tend to refer to as the crazy slapstick tendency. It happens in Chinese as well as Japanese films and again does not always translate well to others. I think this is made more difficult here because the lead was a well known funny man and much of what he does will have been funny through familiarity. Despite all that, the film is well shot, everything happens at a frantic pace, there are no ponderous or slow passages but you do have to try and remember who is who. Another difficulty for western views but I shall not be expanding upon that. A much loved film in its native country and surely worth a watch.
This Sporting Life (1963)
The streets, the houses, the shops, the pubs, the clubs and the children playing
Gripping, arresting and totally believable from the start, this is excitingly authentic. The terrible game of rugby league football is beautifully shot in all the horror of its violent thuggery and macho heroism. The streets, the houses, the shops, the pubs, the clubs and the children playing all evoke memories of that admittedly dreary but familiar visions. The living spaces, some cramped and dinged, like mine a that time, and others spacious and exuding that illusive smell of success (or upper class thuggery!) All this is fine and Richard Harris is fully believable as the film's angry young man. It is just that as the, rather overlong, film continues we get less of the 'sporting life' and the 'dead end streets' and more of the 'love' story and rather clumsy stabs at class warfare. In the end we are rather tiring of all the 'I love you', 'I hate you' cries and welcome the closing credit but it is still very much a worth seeing film that probably catches more of what it really felt like to be in Britain late 50s/early 60s than any other film I have seen.
whole disgusting and gooey horror of it all
I remember seeing this upon its theatrical release and being very impressed. Indeed, I seemed to enjoy it more than most. Watching it again I couldn't help but remember those twists and turns and the switches between reality, perceived reality and the game reality. The other thing is the absolute awfulness of the body parts utilised as game parts and the whole spinal plug in aspect. The whole disgusting and gooey horror of it all is still there but nothing like as traumatising as it was the first time. Good to see Jennifer Jason Leigh again, having recently seen her without her clothes in Flesh + Blood. She's very good and helps hold this together but it is a struggle against the far too effective special effects and those game tropes which ultimately seem to drag thing down.
Mine Own Executioner (1947)
It comes as a surprise watching this to discover that psychiatry, in this country, was in such a state of infancy
It comes as a surprise watching this to discover that psychiatry, in this country, was in such a state of infancy. Although it was about to be introduced into the NHS, in the early post-war years the insane asylums, where anyone who didn't fit the norm, tended to be tossed still prevailed. The mental effects of warfare were a factor in alerting the authorities to cause and effect more clearly than early childhood incidents, which parents tended to do their best to conceal. So, here we have a film of vital social interest, so intriguing and indeed stunning a 1947 audience that the film receive many plaudits and became the official British entry at Cannes. Burgess Meredith puts in a fine and convincing performance and the entire film is presented in such a way as to titillate, excite and inform with the added bonus of a scary suspense element and killings.