CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #14 – RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) – GUN VERSUS SWORD!
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Produced by: Frank Marshall
Screenplay by: Lawrence Kasdan
Story by: George Lucas, Philip Kaufman
Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliott etc.
Music by: John Williams
Cinematography: Douglas Slocombe
*** CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS ***
It’s Saturday morning in London, so what better than to conjure up memories of classic weekend film entertainment. Because I recall, one Saturday, watching the monumental adventure classic, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), when I was eleven at the ABC Cinema in Fulham with my nine-year old brother. Nothing like a great film to bring back happy memories. After the film ended, we were exhilarated and hungry. We decided that rather than spend our remaining money on bus fare, we’d prefer to walk home to Battersea and share a bag of chips in the rain.
The three mile walk lasted no time at all as we were full of excitement about the incredible film we’d just witnessed. Gigantic rolling balls, snakes in cockpits, treacherous monkeys, villainous Germans, a hard-drinking heroine, unforgettable fights, shootouts, chase scenes galore, and a whip-cracking, charismatic, never-say-die archaeology Professor as our leading protagonist. Those Nazis never stood a chance chasing the ultimate McGuffin in the lost Ark of the Covenant.
With a film like Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), you essentially have one classic scene after another. So much so you could do a top twenty easily. I have chosen to focus on an earlier middle act chase sequence which ends with one of the greatest punchlines ever committed to celluloid. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is chasing baskets around the marketplace searching for Marion (Karen Allen). It’s an incredibly well directed and edited scene. Moreover, it’s funny, exciting and full of twists; including that darned monkey! John Williams music is utterly wonderful to boot. Mid chase Indy is faced with a swordfighter from his pursuers. The fighter displays an amazing set of skills and we wonder how our hero will escape certain death. Well, Indy just shoots him!
The story goes that a massive battle was planned but Harrison Ford had food poisoning, thus the scene was rewritten. Thus, movie magic was conjured, not from expert planning, but from having dodgy guts! They should have stuck to sharing a bag of chips. But then we wouldn’t have this amazing end to a magnificent movie sequence.
Cast: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle, Lily Knight, Lily Frazer, Turlough Convery, Rosie Sansom, Marcus Hutton
Music by: Adam Janota Bzowski
Cinematography: Ben Fordesman
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. . .” – Matthew 7:15
Also, beware of false praise from film reviewers! Because over the years I’ve often seen hyperbolic notices about films that after seeing them I wonder if I’ve been watching the same thing. Of course, any kind of review is subjective, and we cannot all like the same thing, but sometimes so-called critics rave about a cinema release for reasons I just don’t get. It could be that they genuinely like the film or are attempting to promote it on a personal or corporate level for some incestuous allegiance to the filmmaker or studio. They could even have been paid for the positive words. The latter is unlikely, but possible. Anyhow, everyone’s entitled to their opinion.
So, when I saw the glowing notices for Rose Glass’ psychological character study, Saint Maud (2019), I was initially sceptical. Thankfully after watching it at the Curzon cinema at the weekend, I concur with many of the raving critics. The film is a thoroughly absorbing and compelling exploration of religious mania, alienation, and mental breakdown. Moreover, Rose Glass, on her directorial feature debut deserves much praise for crafting a stunningly disturbing journey of one individual’s search for the Lord Almighty and rapturous redemption. Only to reveal, in Maud, a troubled outsider and lost soul, completely at odds with the people around her and society as a whole.
Morfydd Clark is absolutely spellbinding as the lead character. In fact, she inhabits both elements of protagonist and antagonist in this jagged narrative. Sadly, Maud becomes her own worst enemy as the film progresses. Her job as a nurse has connotations of angels and heroines, but eventually travels an alternative path. The film opens with flashes of a tragedy which has occurred at the hospital where Maud works. These events will haunt Maud like a psychological millstone; dragging her toward darkness while she seeks enlightenment. Rapidly quickening forward we then find Maud in private medical employment caring for former famed choreographer portrayed by Jennifer Ehle.
Ehle, as Amanda, gives an impressive rendition of a dying bitter woman; full of spite, bravado and fear as she nears the end of her life. Not that that stops Amanda from smoking, drinking and partying, much to the pious Maud’s displeasure. The two divergent personalities clash constantly as Maud takes it upon herself to be Amanda’s saviour. This ultimately becomes an obsessive crusade by Maud, no doubt in an attempt to find peace and redemption following the tragedy in her prior job. Such is the power of Maud and Amanda’s complex relationship of warring opposites, Saint Maud (2019) suffers minor dramatic inertia when Maud goes off the rails toward the end of the second act. Nonetheless, Glass is cleverly building Maud’s turmoil before bringing Ehle’s character back in the shocking and memorable final scenes.
Saint Maud (2019), overall, is an exceptionally well-crafted low budget work of British cinema. It is more than just a calling card for the extremely talented director, Rose Glass. Her grasp of the material is superb and the cinematography and shot composition support her dark vision brilliantly. The film may disappoint those who prefer conventional supernatural films, as it is more arthouse than classic horror. Moreover, it has much in common with searing character studies by Paul Schrader, such as Taxi Driver (1976), and the more recent, First Reformed (2017). Indeed, Maud’s voiceover permeates like a prayer to an empty sky bleeding into the powerful imagery to compelling effect. The true horror of Saint Maud (2019) is not in jump scares or one-dimensional monsters, but rather the slow descent into hell by a character who strives to be a saviour. Tragically though, Maud is a self-appointed Angel, whose mental fragility disintegrates under the weight of holy desire and biblical fervour.
NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME (2020)
Directed by: Antonio Campos
Produced by: Jake Gyllenhaal, Riva Marker, Randall Poster, Max Born
Screenplay by: Antonio Campos, Paulo Campos
Based on: The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock
Cast: Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Haley Bennett, Eliza Scanlen, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson, Harry Melling, etc.
Narrated by: Donald Ray Pollock
Music by: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans
Cinematography: Lol Crawley
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
Netflix’s latest major film release is a literary adaptation of Donald Ray Pollock’s psychological thriller, The Devil All the Time (2020). One has to believe it is a pretty faithful adaptation because the novelist himself narrates the tale to us via voiceover. Set in the years after World War II, the grim events unfold in the states of Ohio and West Virginia, respectively. While the action is not located in the deep South, the story has many of the tropes synonymous with the Southern Gothic genre, notably: religious fanaticism, explicit sexuality, flawed characters, sickening violence, poverty and human alienation.
The film, directed by Antonio Campos — who helmed the under-rated character study, Christine (2016) — starts extremely purposefully. Returning soldier, Miller Jones (Bill Skarsgard), meets a waitress on his bus journey home and eventually marries her. Both Skarsgard and Hayley Bennett, portraying his wife, inhabit empathetic characters working hard to bring up their son and saving for their own place. Jones, however, is haunted by a traumatic incident in the Pacific, and strives for solace in God and family. Indeed, the corrupt force of religious mania spreads like a cancer throughout The Devil All the Time (2020), becoming a constant threat and reason for many of the characters downfall.
Just as I was connecting with Jones’ life and becoming absorbed by Bill Skarsgard’s commanding performance, tragedy strikes and the narrative takes one of several jarring switches between characters. As such the film does not really have a strong plot, meandering from one character to another witnessing all manner of horrific events fate throws at them. Because, let’s be honest, The Devil All the Time (2020), is no way close to being a feelgood film. In fact, it revels in representing the evil acts of so-called human beings. Thus, throughout I felt a constant sense of dread and anxiety. Barely had Skarsgard misery ended and we are then introduced to the tragedies of characters portrayed by Harry Melling and Mia Wasikowska. Simultaneously, Jason Clarke and Riley Keough join the fray as two violent and sex-driven thrill-seekers. Yet, they are weakly written characters who again drive the mood of the film into pitch blackness.
The film gathers some strength and momentum n the middle act when Tom Holland’s son of Miller Jones comes of age. By focussing on his story we get more drama and emotion, especially where his relationship with his step-sister (Eliza Scanlan) is concerned. Holland gives an excellent performance as the young man attempting to make his way in this filthy and ungodly world. Similarly, Robert Pattinson’s oily Preacher oozes repugnant charm in another sterling piece of acting work. Alas, Sebastian Stan’s Sheriff and Douglas Hodge’s rural gangster are given short shrift in another crime subplot which goes nowhere.
Overall, Antonio Campos delivers an extremely solid thriller from an acting and thematic standpoint. Unfortunately, the fragmented screenplay should arguably have been given a more committed plotline. Of course, it has most likely shadowed the structure of the source novel so therein lies the rub. Having said that, despite the structural shortcomings, there are many shocking and violent set-pieces to satisfy horror fans. Ultimately though, The Devil All the Time (2020) lacks redemption, catharsis and even some decent suspense. By the end we are given few characters to care about and delivered the pessimistic vision that life is a belt of misery. Even a suggestion of sugar helps the poison go down and this film offers very little in the way of sweetness or light.
TO BOLDLY REVIEW #10 – STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION (1991 – 1992) – SEASON 5
Based on Star Trek & Created by: Gene Roddenberry
Season 5 writers (selected): Michael Piller, Michael Wagner, Rick Berman, Jeri Taylor, Lee Sheldon, Melinda Snodgrass, Richard Manning, Ronald D. Moore, David Bischoff, Joe Menosky, Drew Deighan, Brannon Braga, J. Larry Carroll, Hilary J. Bader, Harold Apter, Stuart Charno, Sara Charno, Maurice Hurley, Susan Sackett, Sara Charno, Stuart Charno, Randee Russell, Peter Allan Fields, Rene Echevarria etc.
Season 5 directors (selected): Jonathan Frakes, Winrich Kolbe, Corey Allen, Robert Weimer, Les Landau, Robert Scheerer, Cliff Bole, Paul Lynch, Chip Chalmers, Timothy Bond, David Carson, Gabrielle Beaumont, Patrick Stewart, David Livingston, Marvin V. Rush, Chip Chalmers, Peter Lauritson, Robert Lederman, Paul Lynch, etc.
Main Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Whoopi Goldberg, Colm Meaney, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton, Gates McFadden, Michelle Forbes, Majel Barrett, Rosalind Chao, plus guests: Matt Frewer, Ashley Judd, Kelsey Grammer and Famke Janssen etc.
Music/Composers: Alexander Courage, Jerry Goldsmith, Dennis McCarthy, Ron Jones, Jay Chattaway
Production Company(s): Paramount Television, CBS Television
**** CONTAINS SPOILERS ****
I have just finished boldly watching Season 5 of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION and it was an extremely excellent raft of science fiction television episodes. I have to say though that TWENTY-SIX episodes was a hell of a lot of TV to produce. I know they had big budgets and an army of staff working on the show, but to produce such high quality viewing, albeit within the established formula, is overall incredibly impressive.
Season 5 was up there in consistency of quality writing, acting and directing with the superlative Seasons 3 and 4. Once again the creatives and storyline team explored issues of the day (i.e. 1990s) and married them to the STAR TREK values and philosophies. Of course, we get the usual alien enemies, such as the Romulans and Ferengi, paying a visit to the Enterprise. Yet, we also found new foes, obstacles and allies encountering the Enterprise. Lastly, the formidable Michelle Forbes as the Bajoran, Ensign Roe, was a welcome addition to the crew.
Sadly, Gene Roddenberry passed away during this particular season’s making. This would cause create sadness in the STAR TREK universe, but the production was, by now in very safe hands, as they paid fine tribute to their creator during Season 5. Here are SIX of the best episodes well worth visiting or revisiting. Live long and prosper.
REDEMPTION – PART II – EPISODE 1
The concluding part to the prior season’s cliffhanger found Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn) continuing to fight for honour alongside his brother, Kurn (Tony Todd), against the Duras hordes. There are many moments of high tension throughout the episode with Dorn impressing again as the divided, but ultimately united and redeemed Klingon. Overall, the episode is full of memorable plot turns and fantastic Romulan and Klingon villains, notably Lursa and B’Etor.
UNIFICATION – PARTS I & II – EPISODES 7 & 8
Chosen more for nostalgia as opposed to stellar storytelling, UNIFICATION is a two-parter which sees the return of a famous Trek character, namely Spock (Leonard Nimoy). We also get Mark Lenard’s final appearance as Spock’s father, Sarek, as he and Picard (Patrick Stewart) share a thoroughly moving final scene together. The story finds Spock attempting to repair years of conflict between Vulcans and Romulans, however, Starfleet believe he has defected. Thus, Picard and crew attempt another search for Spock. The narrative pace is steady, nonetheless it is great to see Nimoy don the ears and ultra-logic for a further outing as Spock.
CONUNDRUM – EPISODE 14
While STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION had more than its fair share of emotionally powerful episodes, sometimes a fast-paced and twisting plot with a bit of space espionage was more than welcomed. In CONUNDRUM, the Enterprise crew have their memory wiped by an unknown force dedicated to destroying an alien race. The audience finds suspense and dramatic irony in knowing the crew’s minds have been tampered with as they race against time to prevent war. Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Ensign Ro’s (Michelle Forbes) simmering sexual tension adds romance and humour to a packed storyline.
CAUSE AND EFFECT – EPISODE 18
Easily one of my favourite TNG episodes of this and many a season. This is because it features a fantastic temporal-causality loop plot and extremely high stakes where the Enterprise is concerned. Here the crew are trapped in a perpetual time cycle where the end of it results in the destruction of the Enterprise. Essentially GROUNDHOG DAY (1993) in space (even though this episode came before that classic film), it truly fizzes along with a brilliant script and powerful drama. Kelsey Grammer also guests, adding to the overall quality on display.
I, BORG – EPISODE 23
Could an evil machine ever be humanized? That is just one of the fascinating questions posed in this thoughtful and provocative episode? While they owe much to the Cybermen, the Borg remain a powerful weapon in the STAR TREK storytelling arsenal. The only problem is they are virtually invincible, so tough to write stories for. Rather cleverly in I, BORG, the episodes isolates a single unit and Picard, Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) and La Forge (LeVar Burton) especially, confront their hatred and desire for revenge. As the Borg unit, or Hugh (an excellent Jonathan Del Arco) as he becomes known, spends time on the Enterprise he positively changes. This provides much to consider for the crew with their emotions shifting toward Hugh/the Borg.
THE INNER LIGHT – EPISODE 25
Not only is this one of the best episodes of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, but it is also one of the best episodes of STAR TREK ever. The story is precipitated by an unknown probe which scans the Enterprise and directs an energy beam at Picard, who wakes up to find himself on Kataan, a non-Federation planet. Here Picard attempts to escape his existence as Kamin, but over time he grows into this strange new life. What begins as a simple body swap plot, unfurls into something all the more emotionally grander. We know Patrick Stewart is a fine actor, but he imbues Picard/Kamin with a gravitas of enormous propensity. I also loved how Picard, the Captain, is humbled by a more domestic life full with life and love. Lastly, Jay Chattaway’s score is absolutely beautiful.
In keeping with my theme of branching out and watching different subscribers, last month I paid around £4.99 extra for the ARROW VIDEO CHANNEL via AMAZON PRIME. This gave me access to a whole host of good, bad and very weird films. There are some newish films on there, but mainly the channel contains vintage horror, arthouse and cult movies. This was a good old trip down memory lane for me as it meant I re-watched loads of films which were considered part of the 1980’s “video nasties” era. I also watched a number of films I had never seen before.
If you didn’t know ARROW FILMS is a leading independent entertainment distribution company. Established in 1991, it is dedicated to supporting upcoming and established filmmakers of dynamic new cinema and developing a slate of fantastic films from all around the globe. Moreover, they are also a leading restorer of classic and cult films and enjoy releasing anniversary celebrations of landmark titles. You’ll find some films of both incredible and dubious quality. Safe to say though, such releases are never boring. Lastly, ARROW are never frightened to distribute films previously banned, unreleased or heavily censored. They are true pioneers in the world of cinema. Check out their website here!
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
THE HORROR! THE HORROR!
If, like me, you love horror films then an Arrow subscription is essential. But before I get onto those, they also have a decent roster of world cinema films. Directors such as Krzysztof Kieślowski, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Susanne Bier, Thomas Vinterberg, Marjane Satrapi, Vittorio De Sica, David O. Russell, Hirokazu Koreeda, Richard Kelly, Bruce Robinson, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Nagisha Oshima have many of their works distributed by Arrow online and via DVD or BLU-RAY. Indeed, I recently watched and loved Kieslowski’s BLIND CHANCE (1987) and Oshima’s MERRY CHRISTMAS MR LAWRENCE (1983). on the Arrow channel.
Yet, it was mainly the horror and cult movies I concentrated on during my month’s sojourn into Arrow’s back catalogue. Thus, here are some mini-reviews and marks out of eleven for the numerous films I watched.
THE BEYOND (1981)
Insane, surreal and with some incredibly gory deaths, this is perhaps Lucio Fulci’s most illogical, but brilliant film. The imagery and music collude to both sicken and chill in equal measures. It also has one of the most haunting final scenes in horror cinema. Mark: 8 out of 11
THE BLACK CAT (1981)
A truly dreadful adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s story which is contemporised badly by Lucio Fulci and his scriptwriters. I dislike cats generally and this revenge story does nothing to appease such negativity. Mark: 2.5 out of 11
THE BURNING (1981)
Pretty decent gore-fest which, while written before FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980), suffers mildly in comparison to that murdered-teenagers-at-camp classic. Famous for being produced by the Weinstein’s and early acting appearances from Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens and Holly Hunter. Mark: 7.5 out of 11
Truly terrible, but actually “so-bad-it’s-entertaining” mash-up of ALIEN (1979) and the 007 Bond franchise. Dodgy effects, acting and dubbing make this Italian B-movie laughably enjoyable. Mark: 5.5 out of 11
DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING (1972)
An earlier Lucio Fulci film which actually has a decent plot and some disturbing, but compelling scenes and themes. Centred amidst a rural Italian setting, a murderer is running amok killing the village children. A reporter sets out to uncover the murderer as villagers begin to suspect the kids died at the hands of witchcraft. Mark: 7.5 out of 11
THE EXTERMINATOR (1980)
I used to revel in this nasty B-movie revenge film as a teenager. The school yard would have hives of thirteen-year olds chattering about the Doberman attack scene, pimps set on fire and the gangster killed in a meat grinder. Watching it back now, it truly is a terrible piece of filmmaking and an extremely lurid viewing experience. For all its derivative faults, I still loved it! Mark: 7 out of 11
Clive Barker’s cult horror classic is not so much about narrative coherence, but an assault on the senses. That damned mysterious and devilish “Rubik’s cube” is opened, giving way to a whole host of demonic monsters breaking Earth’s dimensions and threatening an Anglo-American family. Powerful visuals, incredibly effective prosthetics and brilliant nemeses in Frank and Pinhead, make HELLRAISER (1987) an extremely memorable low-budget horror cult classic. Mark: 8 out of 11
HELLRAISER II: HELLBOUND (1988)
A direct sequel to the original, but without Clive Barker directing this time unfortunately. HELLBOUND (1988) has some wonderful gore and monstrous moments as Kenneth Cranham’s mad doctor opens up the hellish gates to the beyond. But the surreal storytelling is so deranged and ridiculous I was just laughing by the end. Mark: 5.5 out of 11
MANIAC COP (1988)
I love a lot of Larry Cohen’s work, but this is arguably only a minor B-movie script from him. The clue is in the title really as a vengeful cop goes on a kill crazy rampage in the dark recesses of the city. Notable for Bruce Campbell’s turn as a bemused cop suspected of the crimes, plus the impactful silent giant of a killer. Mark: 6 out of 11
THE NEW YORK RIPPER (1982)
While I do not agree with censorship as a rule, I can see why this Lucio Fulci United States shocker was banned in Britain for many years. It is disgustingly violent and misogynistic, verging on pornography in many scenes. The biggest crime is it’s so badly made from a capable filmmaker. Avoid at all costs! Mark: 1 out of 11
RAWHEAD REX (1986)
A gigantic phallic cock-monster called ‘Rawhead’ is woken near an Irish village and kills anyone who gets in his way. Another Clive Barker short story gets a film adaptation and this is awful in every way! Barker hated it and that led to him taking more control of HELLRAISER (1987). Lacking narrative context and even basic filmmaking skills, we are in the “so bad it’s hilarious” camp here. Mark: 3 out of 11
RED EYE (2005)
A rare diversion away from the horror genre finds Wes Craven directing Cillian Murphy, Rachel McAdams and Brian Cox in this fast-paced airplane-set thriller. I had never seen this film before as McAdams and Murphy provide committed performances while possessing excellent on-screen chemistry. Extremely suspenseful for the most part until it gives way to huge explosions and shootouts at the end. Great fun overall! Mark: 7.5 out of 11
I have to admit that I am not a big fan of Dario Argento’s films generally. I find them imaginative, but mostly loud and nonsensical. Moreover, they have little in the way of suspense or actual scares. TENEBRAE (1982) is another empty Argento exercise in misogyny and style-over-substance as an American writer finds himself pitted against a vicious killer copying murders from his novels. There are some decent horror moments, but the twist is too self-knowing and ridiculous to not find laughable. Mark: 6 out of 11
THE WITCH THAT CAME FROM THE SEA (1976)
Now, this is a weird film. Part-revenge-part-feminist-part-porn-part-horror story that was also banned in Britain as a video-nasty. Millie Perkins gives a haunting performance as a psychologically damaged individual, who is so disturbed by a childhood trauma she kills when in sexual congress. It’s almost a really good film because the characterisation and motivation is well conceived. However, it’s also rather eccentrically acted and directed in places, so approach with great caution. Mark: 6 out of 11
ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS (1979)
This classic zombie exploitation from Lucio Fulci is one I’ve seen many times. While not quite as good as the Romero classics in terms of story and theme, it has so many unforgettably bloody scenes. The moment when a zombie attacks a shark is a horror set-piece you will never forget. As Fulci rips off Romero he spins the undead genre into a frenzy with relentless dirt, maggots, sinew, bone and guts on screen, all the while accompanied by a creepy score by Giorgio Tucci. Mark: 8 out of 11
ZOMBIE FOR SALE (2019)
The most contemporary film I watched from Arrow Video is a riotously funny and moving rom-zom-com from Korea. A rural family find a way of making money out of a zombie who has escaped a science laboratory, however, their get-rich-quick-scheme backfires with bloody hilarious results. While it is overlong, it benefits from a clever script and excellent acting, although it over-does the slow motion scenes and jarring narrative tonal switches. Mark: 8 out of 11