Cast: Donald Pleasence, Norman Rossington, David Ladd, Sharon Gurney, Hugh Armstrong, Christopher Lee etc.
Cinematography: Alex Thomson
***CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS***
In my last review I wrote with nostalgia about trips to the video shop. Yes, an actual shop where you could hire films existed! Imagine that. Now, I further lament the splintered streaming marketplace where you have to pay a subscription to watch a film when I used to be able to see it on telly for free. Plus, there are TOO MANY platforms. Those £5.99 and £4.99 and £7.99 per month fees soon stack up. I used to love turning on Channel Four or BBC2 or latterly Film Four and there would be a cult horror film, classic film noir, World cinema, art film or early directorial release from a now famous director on there late at night – FOR FREE! Thankfully, aside from all the streaming stems I have to manage, a channel on digital TV called Talking Pictures does show some genuinely great movies that time and humanity may have forgotten. One such is Deathline (1972).
Deathline (1972) – (AKA Raw Meat in the U.S.) is a genuine cult classic horror film which is gruesome, darkly witty and incredibly moving in equal measures. In this era of constant remakes I am surprised no filmmaker has decided to transfer this grimy and quintessentially British movie into the modern day. In many ways I am glad they haven’t as it, despite some glaring flaws in characterisation of two main protagonists, borders on being a bona fide under-rated classic. The premise involves a series of missing persons who are disappearing around the area of Russell Square underground station. The sarcastic Inspector Calhoun (inimitable Donald Pleasence) is tasked with cracking the case. He does so with gallows humour and gallons of cups of tea.
Pleasence is not the only person who gives a memorable acting performance in Deathline (1972). Because the screenplay and direction spends a lot of the grisly running time creating a thematic and visual mythology around the antagonist. Indeed, while the killer, described in the credits as the ‘Man’ (Hugh Armstrong), commits several brutal slayings and abductions, the ghastly backstory given and Armstrong’s emotionally charged portrayal really make you empathise with his situation. The combination of pustular make-up effects, the rat-infested underground lair he inhabits, plus the tragic circumstances surrounding the ‘Man’s’ plight ensure he one of cinema’s most empathetic monsters since Karloff in Frankenstein (1931).
It’s a shame therefore that more wasn’t done to develop the leading couple in the film, students Alex Campbell (David Ladd) and Patricia Wilson (Sharon Gurney). While she is at least sympathetic, he is completely unlikeable and mostly unheroic. So much so I was rooting more for the plague-pocked ‘Man’ at the end rather than him. But hey I’m watching this for the gore and deaths aren’t I? Well, there’s plenty of that in between Inspector Calhoun’s chirpy working-class snipes and demands for cups of tea. Plus, director Gary Sherman gives us a tremendous, long take which establishes the cavernous setting for the murder and horror, utilising the dank London underground tunnel system to maximum impact. While Christopher Lee is given poster billing, he’s only in one scene as a privileged MI5 agent. Finally, did you know Marlon Brando was originally cast as the ‘Man’. Well, I’m kind of glad that was an offer he did refuse. Because Armstrong’s tragic human monster lives on long in the mind, even after the film’s haunting final echoes have faded.
Cast: Felissa Rose, Katherine Kamhi, Paul DeAngelo, Mike Kellin, Karen Fields, Desiree Gould, etc.
Music by: Edward Bilous
Cinematography: Benjamin Davis, David M. Walsh
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
Whatever you do please do not read anything about this cult classic horror film from 1983. It has one of the most shocking twists at the end and even on second watch my jaw dropped when I witnessed the final scene. You’ll be tempted to find out but just watch the whole film. It is on YouTube here!
So, if you’re NOT a fan of B-movies horror exploitation films then Sleepaway Camp (1983) will not be for you! A lot of the acting is by first-timers and the director, Robert Hiltzik, is also making his debut here. In fact, he didn’t make another film after this until many years later because he became a lawyer. But the film gained a cult following among horror fans and certainly deserves cult status. It may be badly acted in many scenes and verging on the hysterical, yet it is well filmed and edited on a meagre budget of $300,000. There’s also some fantastically imaginative murder set-pieces, with excellent make-up and prosthetics work employed.
The story centres on the vulnerable teenager, Angela (Felissa Rose), who, having lost her father in an accident when younger, now lives with her Aunt Martha (Desiree Gould) and cousin, Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten). Her Aunt sends Angela and Ricky to Camp Arawak for the summer and due to her quiet demeanour she soon becomes a target for bullies. Ricky attempts to protect her, however, other than a budding romance with another teenager, Paul, Angela finds it very difficult to fit in. When dead bodies begin to turn up due to a number of grisly “accidents”, the kids and counsellors soon find themselves all in danger.
Amidst all the over-the-top acting, Felissa Rose gives a brilliant wide-eyed and subtle performance as Angela. For a film that could be classed as aFriday the 13th (1980) rip-off, her character arc throughout is both fascinating and quite unsettling. Indeed the film veers between being a strange hybrid of summer camp slice-of-life, rites-of-passage and slasher genre films. Yet despite all the uneven tone there is a decent story here with much emotional impact. Amidst all the death the film finds time to address bullying, sexual abuse and adult neglect to minors. Ultimately though, Sleepaway Camp (1983), has some fantastic gore and THAT quite astounding ending!
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.
Produced by: Claude Herroux, Pierre David, Victor Solnicki
Cast: James Woods, Sonja Smits, Deborah Harry, Les Carlson, Jack Creley, Peter Divorsky etc.
Music: Howard Shore
With the lack of cinema-going action, I am now looking at building other review ideas and articles into my blog. I have regular new release reviews, classic film reviews, great ensemble casts and under-rated film reviews. I suppose that’s enough really, but there are some films that don’t quite fit these categories and they are cult movies. How does one define a cult film? It could have been a box-office bomb or be a no-budget gem, be transgressive or have controversial subject matter. Conversely, it could be a video nasty or banned or even an ultra-arthouse film which defies classical filmmaking conventions. More importantly, I do not have to actually like the film for it to qualify as a cult film. It could be a difficult film I am evaluating or re-evaluating from a fan or academic perspective. Lastly, it could just simply be a film that is uncategorizable or so bad it’s bad or so bad it’s good.
My first review in this category is David Cronenberg’s body-horror film, Videodrome (1983). Now, it may fit the specific rules of an under-rated classic laid down in previous articles, however, Videodrome (1983) is not necessarily a film I love or believe is a classic. It is a remarkably original narrative descent into the hellish and surreal world of demented psychological snuff television. It contains amazing practical special effects by the legend Rick Baker, yet, having re-watched it last week I cannot say it’s a film one can enjoy from an entertainment perspective. Don’t get me wrong, David Cronenberg is a true auteur and genius filmmaker, it’s just Videodrome (1983) is a hallucinatory and disturbing nightmare of a film that works outside the boundaries of usual image systems and narrative conventions. Basically, it’s more a powerful set of concepts and scenarios rather than a simple and satisfying story.
The story opens with anti-heroic, Max Renn (James Woods) as president of CIVIC-TV, seeking new content for his Toronto-based TV channel. Despite Woods’ charisma as an actor he is an expert at playing dominant alpha male types who challenge the audiences’ empathy. He portrays Max with a sleazy charm hunting for, what one may consider, soft-pornographic shows for his station. He’s basically an addict looking to push the walls of taste for his sex-hungry viewers. Max then discovers a channel, via a grainy satellite feed, called Videodrome. It shows unfiltered torture and sexual aggression, and Max becomes determined to tap into that market. At the same time, he begins a sado-masochistic sexual relationship with a radio host, Nikki Brand (Deborah Harry). Soon, these two intense narrative strands entwine and threaten Max’s mind, body and very existence.
Videodrome (1983) is a highly intelligent shocker which explores the nature of television violence, notions of taste and censorship, fears of technological programming, and the mental damage caused by over-exposure to violent pornography. It is an extremely psychologically and physically graphic film to watch. Nevertheless, it is also full of incredible imagery involving on-screen murder, Renn being swallowed by his TV; and also literally transforming into a human video cassette player. While an audience may not like Max Renn as a person, his journey is one that grips with magnetic shock and disgust. As he gets ever closer to the Videodrome channel his downward spiral plays out like a demented morality story, with Max representing the journey of those audience members who lose themselves in the illusory realities of television product. As he begins to lose touch with reality, Max experiences a complete lack of control over his mind and desires, all seemingly controlled by a heinous corporation led by insidious suit, Barry Convex (Leslie Carlson).
Incredibly, David Cronenberg apparently turned down directing The Return of the Jedi (1983) to write and direct this more personal vision of cinema. Could there be two more different films? Nonetheless, while it may not be a film I can easily recommend to those of a sensitive disposition or those who like their horror to have tidy conclusions, Videodrome (1983), retains its relevance and power to this day as a shocking critique of modern media. Hence qualifying it as a cult horror film which pushes all the wrong buttons in the right way.
CLASSIC HORROR FILM REVIEWS – BLACK SUNDAY (1960) & BLACK SABBATH (1963)
What better way to distance oneself from the horror of real life than by watching some classic horror films? Not that my life is that bad as I am alive and healthy and doing very well in the lockdown circumstances. Thankfully I am not having to deal with the sick people like those in the NHS and medical facilities across the world. Kudos to those individuals trying to save lives and cure the sick. Who could have predicted that these events could unfold? It’s like society has been cursed.
Talking of curses, the horror genre is one of my favourites. Although, to be honest, I do love most genres of film. Indeed, while I’m not a massive fan of romance or musicals, if the film itself is well made, then I will watch and most likely enjoy it. However, if I want to be sure to favour a film, then horror will be one of my go to genres. One such legendary filmmaker of horror movies was Italian director, Mario Bava. I’m ashamed to admit I had not seen many of his releases, if any. Shocking really as he was known by many as the ‘Master of Italian horror’. Thus, I corrected that by recently watching both Black Sunday/Mask of Satan (1960) and Black Sabbath (1963). Here are two short reviews of these atmospheric horror classics.
BLACK SUNDAY (1960)
Director: Mario Bava
Cast: Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Andrea Checchi, Ivo Garrani
Given Mario Bava was a talented cinematographer who worked on many Italian film productions it’s no surprise thatBlack Sunday (1960) looks incredible. The transfer I watched on Blu-ray was pristine with the black and white photography really shimmering on the screen. The lighting is all shards and jagged amidst the foreboding darkness and shadows. The story itself is a creepy gothic tale of curses, witchcraft and revenge. It starts with a grim opening scene as Asa, a witch (Barbara Steele), and her lover being punished by her brother for sorcery. This involves placing a spiked mask on their faces and burying them alive. She damns them to hell with the promise she will return one day to wreak retribution. Guess what happens centuries later? While it runs out of story toward the end the opening hour is full of scary imagery and chilling moments. While it may seem mild by today’s standards, Black Sunday (1960), was in fact heavily censored on release and was even banned in the United Kingdom until 1968. While today’s horror films rely much on cheap jump scares, this one is a good old-fashioned creepfest, spreading a pervading aura of fear from start to finish.
Mark: 8 out of 11
BLACK SABBATH (1963)
Director: Mario Bava
Cast: Boris Karloff, Mark Damon, Michele Mercier, Susy Anderson, Jacqueline Pierreux etc.
The original title of this film was The Three Faces of Fear and this is a much more compelling title than the one we got. Don’t get me wrong BlackSabbath (1960) works, but given this is an anthology featuring three short horror films relating to fear, it seems like a marketing ploy echoing previous horror Black Sunday (1960). Anyway, the three stories are very different in setting and tone but all work well with Boris Karloff introducing them. The first is a pre-Giallo style contemporary murder story called The Telephone. Here a glamorous call-girl is stalked by an unknown person via constant telephone calls. It’s a slow burn build up of fear, as silence then sudden ringing raises the heartrate before the fine twist at the end. The second story is called The Wurdalak. A more traditional vampire story, it finds a handsome nobleman falling in love with a rural village girl, whose family are threatened by a bloodsucking Wurdalak. This was so creepy as we get severed heads and vampiric children in a story which reminded me of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. The final story, The Drop of Water is arguably the best. With more than a hint of The Tell-Tale Heart about it, the story finds a nurse stealing something from a dead woman, only for the vengeful ghost (or her guilty conscience) to take exception. Overall, this is a brilliant anthology horror film, which is still scary now and definitely stands the test of time.
HORROR-ON-SEA FILM FESTIVAL is an amazing gathering in Southend-on-Sea, Essex. Every year horror filmmakers and fans flock to the Essex coastal town to satisfy their lust for all things horror.
The festival screens, over two weekends in January, some of the most gruesome, scariest, funniest and entertaining independent horror films you’ll ever find. For more information please check out their Facebook page here. And the website here.
I would personally like to thank Horror-on-Sea for screening my short psychological thriller, TOLERANCE (2019). It was a great crowd who seemed to enjoy the film last Sunday night. You can see the film by clicking on link below. Also, please subscribe to the YouTube channel by clicking here.
Lastly, a big shout out to Paul Cotgrove and his army of assistants who make the festival such a success. Also, congratulations to all the filmmakers who commit to making their horror films so bloody entertaining. Many of these films are self-funded and produced so well done to them.
This was my third visit to Horror-on-Sea Film Festival and this year I stayed for two nights. That enabled me to watch even more short and feature horror films. Here is a list of films I watched with promotional links (where possible). They were all really entertaining with horror, comedy, fear, sex and gore all combining to wonderful effect. There were many, many more films shown too so I recommend you go next year as it’s back in 2021!
HORROR-ON-SEA 2020 – FILMS WATCHED
The Dead Ones (Short) – Director: Stefan Georgiou – Link
The Front Door (Short) – Director: Andrew Rutter – Link
Produced by: Marco Morabito, Brad Fischer, Luca Guadagnino, Silvia Venturini, Francesco Melzi d’Eril, William Sherak, Gabriele Moratti
Screenplay by: David Kajganich – Based on Suspiria (1977) by Dario Argento and Dari Nicolodi
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Angela Winkler, Ingrid Caven, Elena Fokina, Chloe Grace Moretz, Malgosia Bela, Lutz Ebersdorf, Jessica Harper etc.
Music by: Thom Yorke
Cinematography: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
There are so many films released that it is virtually impossible to see them all. Plus, even if you didn’t have to work to earn a damned wage or physically need sleep you still wouldn’t be able to watch everything at the cinema. More specifically though, we may choose NOT to go to see a film on the big screen for certain reasons. Collectively, I consider these movies to be “one’s that got away!”
Thus, in a new section called, unsurprisingly, FILMS THAT GOT AWAY, I will be reviewing films which I missed first time round at the cinema and have subsequently caught up with on Sky, Amazon, Netflix, Blu-Ray or even good old-fashioned terrestrial television. I will consider the film critically as entertainment and why I missed it first time round. As usual the film will be marked out of eleven.
When the UK release of Suspiria (2018) was announced there were many reasons I was immediately put off from wanting to see it. Firstly, despite having watched it three times, I genuinely could not stand the original Dario Argento film. I know people consider it a horror classic; however, I think story wise, it’s a bad film. It’s neither scary from an emotional point-of-view or actually makes any sense logically. I know it’s meant to be based on surreal and nightmarish imagery, montage and performance, but the story or characters did not connect with me. The colour design, gore and soundtrack are outstanding but, overall, I felt I was trapped watching the manic outpourings of an Italian psychopath.
The second reason I did not want to watch it is I haven’t always got on with Luca Guadagnino’s cinematic works. Don’t get me wrong, he is a brilliant filmmaker. However, I find him an indulgent artist whose tone, pace and direction seems haphazard. Of the films I have seen, I Am Love (2009) was a brilliant character study, anchored by a stunning Tilda Swinton performance. But A Bigger Splash (2011) and Call Me By Your Name (2017), were expertly constructed but indulgent and over-rated travelogues littered with narcissistic bores. Nonetheless, I really liked Suspiria (2018). It is almost, but for Guadagnino’s typical excesses, a horror masterpiece.
Set in 1977 (when the original was released), at the height of the Cold War in divided Germany, Suspiria, is a heady mix of rites of passage, cold war and horror genres. There are many narrative strands with which the screenplay, by David Kajganich, attempts to balance. Further, we also have personal, political, religious, artistic, gender and communal themes prevalent through the story. While it’s an ensemble cast the focus is Dakota Johnson’s Susie. She is a young aspiring dancer, from an Amish background, who joins the world-famous Markos dance company. In the process she is determined to impress Tilda Swinton’s commanding mentor. The parallel narrative involves psychiatrist Dr Josef Klemperer and his investigation into a missing patient (Chloe Grace Moretz); who also happens to be a dancer from the troupe.
As the story unfolds Susie proves herself an incredibly powerful dancer. At the same time, it is revealed that the elders and teachers of the dance group are hiding a sinister secret with darkness and ritual to the bloody fore. Memorable dance sequences full of beauty, energy and gore dominate, with Dakota Johnson giving an impressively physical acting portrayal. I also liked the nuanced control within her character as she grows stronger with each dance. Meanwhile, further dark events occur as Dr Klemperer’s investigations draw him closer to the troupe’s shadowy doors.
As I said, Suspiria is almost a horror masterpiece. The filmmaking, cinematography, art direction, choreography and score by Thom Yorke all collide to create an incredibly tense and terrifying experience. Moreover, while I was fully committed to the characters in the dance troupe and Susie’s movement up the ranks, the choice to juxtapose the socio-political events seemed to belong in another film. The religious context and notions of family and matriarchal dominance were incredibly powerful too and served the horror well. However, Guadagnino, in my humble view should have shaved some scenes from the running time. While I much prefer this film to the Argento original, a further edit for pace would have made this even better. Nonetheless, it had me riveted throughout through the sheer quality of filmmaking. I was incredibly impressed by the melding of dance and death. Indeed, the final orgiastic ritual with buckets of blood, decapitations and gnarled monsters was supernaturally unforgettable.
APOCALYPSE TO ZOMBIES: THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (2016) REVIEW
Being an avid cinema-goer I love the experience and have few complaints as a pastime generally. Of course there are great, good, mediocre and bad movies but that’s the nature of any business. However, one of the things that often gets on my nerves is the lack of promotion for really good low-budget films produced in the U.K. Quite often such films on a lower budget fall foul of the power of the Multiplex domination by Hollywood where Disney, Marvel and Star Wars franchise films saturate the cinema screens. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy such cinematic entertainment, but every now and then, a real gem of a film falls between the cracks and does not get the attention it should. One such film is the British zombie-horror drama The Girl With All The Gifts (2016).
Somewhere amidst the Hollywood marketing behemoth this film was released last year to very little fanfare and it deserved much more in my opinion. It has an excellent cast with Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine and Glenn Close playing key characters. It also features an intriguing script – based on his novel – by M.R. Carey, succinct direction by Colm McCarthy; plus a standout performance from young actress Sennia Nanua. I must say that the score by Cristobal Tapia de Veer added to the overall dread, scares and brooding peril and I expect this composer to go to the top of his profession.
Thematically, the film is very strong dealing initially with a skewed educational situation as Ms Justineau (Arterton) teaches her pupils; who are mysteriously chained to their desks. The reason for this is revealed slowly allowing the tension to rise gradually as Justineau’s special relationship with “gifted one” Melanie develops. Their bond builds throughout and one may argue Justineau’s feelings and decisions are misplaced as the adults versus children dynamic heightens. Indeed, the landscape is filled with monstrous orphans and suspense is generated because Melanie’s allegiance could switch any time between the adults and the other zombie children.
Thus, compared to the very average rom-zom-com-mash-up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016), which benefited from a £28 million budget, The Girl With All The Gifts (made for £4 million) contains a whole lot more suspense, imagination and atmosphere. The story itself treads the familiar mud and blood road of a post-apocalyptic world where children are the only hope to combat a deadly virus that has wiped out humanity. It’s a standard scientists-and-soldiers-on-the-road-type-plot which wears a jacket of influences including: Lord of the Flies, 28 Days Later, and various George Romero films very well. Overall, this psychological horror contains a number of tense, heart-racing and gory scenes making it an under-rated classic which deserved more success at the cinema in my humble opinion.
My ongoing series writing about cinema stuff I love, has gone from eulogizing actors to directors and now to genres; oh, how progressive am I? Seriously though, in this piece I choose FIVE time-travel films which are just brilliant examples of the (sub)genre.
I love time-travel films and the main reasons are:
They offer fantastic and paradoxical narratives and “what if” scenarios.
They really get your brain working overtime.
The concepts fit all manner of different genres from action to comedies and thrillers and even the Western.
The philosophical concepts at play often examine the nature of existence; especially where one tries to make sense of life or find meaning where there probably is none.
As evidence I present FIVE such time-travel films which meet all of the criteria and are representative of most genres. Please note I have concentrated solely on time-travel films released in the cinema so Doctor Who remains parked up for this particular piece.
**HERE BE MASSIVE SPOILERS**
BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)
This is probably the most perfect Hollywood movie. It’s a high-concept-time-travelling-Oedipal-narrative-joy-fest which combines action, comedy, romance, sci-fi, and nostalgia genres while backed by a past and present pop music extravaganza! A young teenage innocent called Marty McFly is thrown back to the 1950s. In the 50s he unwittingly begins to undo his own future by accidentally beginning a romance with his own mother. Allied to that he must help his father (Crispin Glover) overcome his social weakness plus battles with horrible bully Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson). Following the basic temporal rule that one’s actions in the past will affect your future the tremendous script is jam-packed with so many wonderful gags, twists and chases; while the race-against-time narrative is a thrill-a-second. The rich iconography – notably the mad scientist’s DeLorean “time machine” – plus cracking performances from Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, render this one of the most exhilarating time-travel films ever.
GROUNDHOG DAY (1993)
Bill Murray is obviously praised as a wonderfully funny man but he’s also a deviously good film actor. At times he doesn’t actually seem to be doing much but his mind is always working as he gives a sly look or a sarcastic smile or a silent sigh from his deadpan, hangdog face. In Groundhog Day he runs the gamut of ALL emotions from anger to desperation to insanity to bliss to apathy to suicide to pride and finally to LOVE! This is a wonderful film with a tremendous “what if” premise which offers the idea we can only move on in life if we’re prepared not only to accept change but also throw off cynicism and find romance. The exceptional script mines the Sisyphean narrative for so many brilliant sequences as Murray relives the same day over and over again. At the beginning this temporal immortality offers an array of gifts to his jaded weatherman Phil Connors; however, by the end his life becomes a dreaded nightmare and repetitive hell. Ultimately, time-travel has never been so funny, tragic and romantic!
I think most time-travel films are paradoxical by nature and holes can always be found in the logic but as a time-travel/thriller genre film Predestination worked really well while providing an intriguing gender-political angle too. The nature of the loner and finding love for others and oneself was also an interesting theme plus the inevitability of fate was there in the subtext too. There’s been a lot of big budget dross at the cinema recently but for the running time this gem offers far more than many other star-driven, big-budget movies. Even though I enjoy seeing stuff blown up on screen I do love a brain-twister too and this film presents one hell of a challenging narrative. Starring Ethan Hawke and with a breakout performance from brilliant Sarah Snook this film from German/Australian directors has intelligence, thrills, heart and several mighty plot twists which bear up under successive viewings.
THE TERMINATOR (1984)
This is one of my favourite films ever. It propelled Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron to mega-stardom in their respective fields and has often been parodied and imitated but rarely bettered. While story is simple: a killing machine has been sent back from the future to destroy Sarah Connor – the soon-to-be mother of uber-rebel leader John Connor; the journey is an absolute humdinger. Cameron’s lean, mean and muscular action screenplay combines brains, brawn, cracking one-liners and explosive set-pieces. Moreover, Linda Hamilton excels as the endangered young woman who turns from a flaky waitress to formidable matriarch over the course of the film. The sequel was brilliant too but the original will remain, despite being made for just $6.4 million dollars, the epitome of a tech-noir-futuristic-time-travel-action classic.
TIME CRIMES (2007)
This fascinating Spanish thriller has a narrative like a Russian doll as it is structured on an enigma within a conundrum within a paradox. It concerns an ordinary Spanish bloke, who having seen some weird behaviour going on in the woods near his house, ends up looping and pursuing multiple versions of himself throughout one very bizarre day. Similar to Triangle (2009) – an underrated time-paradox gem directed by Brit filmmaker Christopher Smith – the enjoyment derives from immersing yourself in the weird and unexplained reasons why Hector (Karra Elejalde) has begun a psycho-sexual, violent loop of death involving a number of temporal leaps. This is all paradoxical plot and wicked thrills and while there is little in the way of characterisation the filmmaker Nacho Vigolondo has created the closest equivalent to a movie version of an Escher painting.
My general viewing in July was an eclectic mix of splendid art cinema and excellent genre television shows. So, here’s what I watched with marks out of eleven and MASSIVE SPOILERS:
ANT-MAN (2015) – SKY CINEMA
Saw this in the cinema last year and it was one of the most entertaining films of 2015! It’s simplistic narrative-wise but what it does have is a fizzing script full of zingers and comedic moments as well as some great action set-pieces built around the well-orchestrated final act heist. It is just terrific seeing charismatic Paul Rudd in big-budget film plus fun supporting cast including: Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena and scenery-chewing baddie Corey Stoll all add class to proceedings. This is great fun and proves that not ALL superhero films have to be HUGE as sometimes small is beautiful. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
DAREDEVIL (2016) – Season 2 – NETFLIX
I absolutely loved this noir superhero show. Season 1 was brilliant and, despite the faceless one-dimensional Ninja villains, this was as good, if not even better! We follow on from Daredevil’s capture of the “Kingpin” Wilson Fisk as he finds new friends and foes in Frank Castle, “The Chaste”, Elektra and “The Hand”. This has it all including: amazing fight scenes, bloody violence, rip-roaring action and hellish derring-do. I think John Bernthal’s “Punisher” takes the plaudits with a fine origins story and great Lee-Marvin-Charles-Bronson-tough-guy-bone-crunching-performance. Once again Charlie Cox as Matt Murdoch is brilliant combining subtlety and physical prowess during his turn as blind lawyer AND the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)
JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORELL (2015) – DVD
This seven-part fantasy-period drama had everything: wonderful effects, dark villains, magical narratives and sterling performances from Bertie Carvel, Alice Englert, Eddie Marsan and Marc Warren. However, at times I was perplexed and a bit bored because unfortunately, despite the stunning imagery, design and imagination on show the narrative stumbled from beginning to end failing to create empathy for the main characters and entertain me with cogent plot strands. Susanna Clarke’s original novel is apparently a literary classic thus perhaps it may have benefited from a connecting voiceover. Yet, it remains a prestige BBC product which many will love; it just did not connect with me on an emotional level. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
MEN AND CHICKEN (2015) – CINEMA
This is one of the most hilarious, unsettling and philosophical comedies you will see in a long time. Similar in tone as last year’s terrific arthouse hit The Lobster (2015), Anders Thomas Jensen has written a cross-pollenated comedy-slapstick-art-horror film that centres on two adopted brothers and their search for their biological father. Mads Mikkelsen and David Dencik portray the siblings who find quite disturbing answers on the Island of Ork where all manner of genetic experimentation has been carried out by their father. This is a weird yet compelling story which lurches from hilarious physical violence to examinations of religion and science that I can only describe as being like the Three Stooges meet The Island of Dr Moreau. One of the most original, odd and strangely moving films you will see all year.(Mark: 9 out of 11)
THE NEON DEMON (2016) – CINEMA
Being an admirer of Nicholas Winding Refn’s Pusher trilogy, Bleeder and Bronson films I am well aware his films do divide opinion. Drive (2011) with Ryan Gosling was a brilliant noir romance yet his last film Only God Forgives (2013) (with Gosling again) was nihilistic, brutal and virtually unwatchable. However, I think his latest The Neon Demon works really well as a surreal horror film that savagely satirizes the fashion industry. The film moves at a glacial pace with an anti-narrative style and strange acting more down to the director’s strategy than poor performance. Nevertheless, it is a magnetic watch with a succession of beautifully designed shots which are way more imaginative than the usual multiplex popcorn fodder. The sumptuous photography, score and grand gore throughout make it a welcome return to form for the always intriguing formal cinematic anarchist Winding Refn. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK (2013 – ) – Season 1 – NETFLIX
Waspy-blonde-rich-spoilt-bitch-Private-Benjamin-type gets banged up the slammer for a historical crime and we’re meant to feel empathy for her? That’s what the premise of this excellent drama asks the audience to do AND actually succeeds in doing through compelling writing and a marvellous ensemble cast. Taylor Schilling portrays the brattish Piper Chapman brilliantly and there’s fine “inside” support from Kate Mulgrew, Uzo Udoba, Taryn Manning and Danielle Brooks to name a few. The structure follows newbie Chapman as she fails to cope with prison life; plus variant flashbacks filling in details of her and inmates’ prior life events. It’s a gripping and funny show with lots of character twists and turns; and somehow it remains fresh despite the potential cliché pitfalls within the subgenre. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
SPECTRE (2015) – SKY CINEMA
Overall, I was disappointed with this Bond outing from last year. I mean there was a lot to like, notably: Daniel Craig’s performance; the stunning cinematography; the brilliant opening ‘Day-of-the-Dead’ and fight-on-train set-pieces; plus the criminally underused Christophe Waltz. However, the story, from a usually reliable John Logan and his screenwriting cohorts was non-existent; relying mainly on callbacks from the previous Craig outings and Bond films of yesteryear. The action was decent but the anorexic plot and weak romance left much to be desired. For a proper moan see my review from last year below. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
STAR TREK: BEYOND (2016) – CINEMA
I was bored by this. Even as a summer blockbuster the film fell short; and finally Star Trek has been turned into a soulless-plotless-video-game with set-pieces “stolen” from other better popcorn films such as Jurassic World (2015) and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). The cast are decent but the formidable abilities of Idris Elba were masked under deep make-up for most of the film. Even if it was to be a latter second act reveal Elba’s presence was given away in the trailer so why not build his character up from the beginning. Plus, the “rogue” agent storyline was done much better in Into Darkness, which I enjoyed as a spectacle. Let’s hope the forthcoming Netflix series has more character and depth than Beyond. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
STAR TREK: NEMESIS (2002) – SKY CINEMA
The final of the Next Generation movies which ended the franchise prior to JJ Abrams’ hit-and-miss reboot, is a pretty decent science-fiction actioner with enough brains to keep you interested. A very young Tom Hardy plays the Reman rebel out to destroy Starfleet and Jean Luc Picard specifically. The themes of cloning, doppelgangers and telepathy serve the action very well and the set-pieces are decent enough. However, as Picard and Data get much of screen time the rest of the crew seem to side-lined throughout. This is not as good as the other Next Gen films but it is still more involving and cerebral than the soporific Star Trek: Beyond. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
STRANGER THINGS (2016) – NETFLIX
Oh, Netflix – I love you! Not only do you present affordable boxsets, docs, TV and film product, but you also produce some damn fine original programming. Netflix’s latest sci-fi drama is an excellent nostalgia-fest which evokes the 1980s perfectly in design, sound and look. Indeed, it wears it’s Spielberg, Stephen King, John Carpenter and George Lucas influences not so much on its sleeve but as a whole outfit. Written and directed by the Duffer Brothers, it centres on the search for a missing child in (where else) Indiana, an ultra-dimensional netherworld and a telekinetic kid called Eleven who’s on the run from a secretive and nefarious US Government facility. Archetypal characters such as embittered drunken cop (David Harbour), distraught nutty mother (Winona Ryder), Gooniesque geeky teens all try and track their missing friend in a drama which has some wonderful stand-out and monstrous moments throughout. Arguably, the eight episodes were padded out in places and it could have been culled for pace but overall it was an excellent watch with a terrific score and soundtrack to boot. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
TALE OF TALES (2015) – CINEMA
Having directed the brutal and gritty kitchen-sink gangster film Gomorrah (2008), filmmaker Matteo Garrone, completely changed style with this ultra-imaginative set of grim fairytales based on the ye olde short stories of Giannbatista Basile. Like a medieval Pulp Fiction the film weaves tall tales called: The Queen, The Flea and the Two Old Women in a superb fashion as flashes of horror, fantasy, amorality and comedy clash with bizarre beasts and bloody death. The cast including: Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones, and Shirley Henderson all get on board amidst the insane plot occurrences and overall I found it a fine anathema to the bland kids offering Hollywood churns out. While the original stories were taken from an anthology called Lo cunto de li cunti (Entertainment for Little Ones), this is definitely for adults and not the little monsters at home. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
WAKOLDA (2013) – DVD
I was gripped by this slow-moving drama set in 1960s Argentina. It follows a hotel-running family and their encounter with a mysterious Doctor. Writer/director Lucia Pacenzo carves out a compelling story which finds the Doctor inveigling himself into the family’s world and carrying out seemingly innocent medical procedures which ultimately have a horrific impact. The film is a real eye-opener into the terrors of the time with many South American countries harbouring fleeing Nazi criminals and Àlex Brendemühl’s performance as the charismatic Doctor expertly glues this fascinating story together. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
Z-NATION (2014) – NETFLIX
Fox’s The Walking Dead has quite rightly taken a lot of plaudits for its incredibly well-written, humanist take on the zombie-horror drama. It offers rich character development, political analogy and of course some fine gore. Z-Nation on the other hand offers something far more fun and humour and downright silliness with zombie dogs, babies, rednecks and bears on the menu. Basically, a ragtag group attempt to transport a zombie-experiment-survivor to a medical facility while assisted by DJ Qualls isolated NSA computer geek. The group fight off an endless supply of zombies, cannibals and religious cults in a tremendous show that counts as a fantastically gory and comedic guilty pleasure. (Mark: 8 out of 11)