2016 BFI – LONDON FILM FESTIVAL – PHANTASM REMASTERED (1979) – REVIEW
TITLE: PHANTASM REMASTERED (1979 / 2016)
DIRECTOR/SCREENPLAY: Don Coscarelli
CAST: Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister, Bill Thornbury
STORY: A grieving boy and his older brother come face-to-face with an evil Funeral director named ‘The Tall Man’ and all hell breaks loose.
REVIEW (CONTAINS SPOILERS):
This brilliant low-budget cult horror film from 1979 was made independently for around $300,000 by then twentysomething Don Coscarelli. It has subsequently been lovingly remastered by J.J. Abrams production company Bad Robot and comes back to the screens in a glistening, shiny and bloody new print. Director Coscarelli introduced this screening and seeing it at the Central Picturehouse in Piccadilly was certainly a wonderful experience for this horror fan!
Where do you start with a bizarre story such as this? Well, firstly Phantasm is a great example of ideas and imagination being worth more than any big Hollywood budget. It’s the reason the film is held in such high regard by horror film fans. Indeed, if you can conjure up a series of iconic images, empathetic characters and scary moments and manage to tell a half-decent story then you have got a great chance to create a memorable experience for a cinema-going audience.
The film opens with a grisly murder and then a funeral, before we are introduced to thirteen-year-old Mike and his older brother Jody. The brothers are grieving for the recent loss of their parents but remain close. Mike hangs out at the graveyard and then becomes suspicious of the funeral director when he incredibly picks up a heavy coffin on his own. Mike manages to convince Jody and their friend Reggie (Reggie Bannister), a local ice-cream man, to investigate further and they are drawn into a series of insane and life-threatening situations.
The narrative while seemingly linear jumps from one surreal set-piece to another and contains memorable images and characters such as: ‘The Tall Man’ portrayed menacingly by Angus Scrimm; the silver killing spheres; the murderous yellow-blooded dwarves; and the inter-dimensional portal which leads to a strange slave-planet. These are all unforgettable and the stuff of bloody death and nightmares. While the plot lacks clarity at times it moves at some pace and the combination of small town life mixed with insane killing devices and crazed creatures creates a wholly memorable mix.
Phantasm is a synthesis of genres from rites-of-passage, suspense, horror and science fiction. Ultimately, it’s the epitome of a cult classic and a triumph of concepts over finance. It’s full of mood and atmosphere and has a creepy synth-based soundtrack that cranks up the fear factor. Overall, super-positive Coscarelli created an imaginative fantasy concerned with death and mourning that has stood the test of time. It may lack the polish of big budget productions but the scares and surrealism reminded me of the works of Italian horror-master Lucio Fulci and Spanish filmmaking genius Luis Bunuel. It’s a film I would wholly recommend for devotees of horror and science-fiction and for those who like their movies raw, inventive and nightmarish.
CAST: Julian Barratt, Simon Farnaby, Essie Davis, Steve Coogan, Jessica Barden, Russell Tovey.
STORY: Over-the-hill actor Richard Thorncroft reprises his 1980s TV role of Mindhorn in order to track down a vicious murderer on the Isle of Man.
This hilarious comedy from the mind-tanks of Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby is an absolute joy, both paying homage and taking the piss out of 1980s cop shows, actors, television and the Isle of Man in general. It centres on washed-up actor Richard Thorncroft, who having been a big TV star in the 80s is now an overweight, balding mess living in a Walthamstow bedsit. Thorncroft’s star rose when he portrayed a Manx detective with a very special power: through a Soviet bionic eye he was able to literally SEE THE TRUTH of the criminals.
Flash forward twenty-odd years and Thorncroft is making ends meet with corporate video jobs and working on adverts for girdles and deep-vein thrombosis socks. That is until a vicious and murderous lunatic is on the rampage on the Isle of Man, and by some insane quirk, will only speak Mindhorn to himself. So, Thorncroft dons the “eye of truth” again and heads back to the Isle of Man before catching up with his ex-wife, former stuntman and far-more successful TV nemesis portrayed by Steve Coogan.
Overall, this is an uneven comedy in terms of story and plot and lacks the cinematic verve of the Cornetto trilogy created by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg. However, Julian Barratt is a comedy genius and his performance alone makes it worth watching. Barratt filters his cowardly, proud and foolish ‘Howard Moon’ persona into the flailing thespian with much hilarity. Moreover, Simon Farnaby hams up his Danish stuntman role to perfection and Russell Tovey is hilarious as “The Kestrel” (don’t ask!) The sight gags, parodies and one-liners come thick and fast and this is recommended for everyone who loves offbeat comedy. Indeed, fans of The Mighty Boosh, Alan Partridge, Harry Enfield’s Norbert Smith and Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place will love this comedic gem.
SCREENWASH – SEPTEMBER 2016 – PART TWO – FILM REVIEWS
Following my Part-One-TV-reviews for September – here’s Part Two with the movie reviews. I had a week off work so I managed to watch loads. Here’s a run through with the usual marks out of eleven. Enjoy.
FILMS OF THE MONTH
A SINGLE MAN (2009) – NETFLIX
Tom Ford’s brilliant character drama starring the exceptional Colin Firth in the lead is an amazingly assured directorial debut. Firth portrays, George Falconer, grieving Professor in 1960s America and we follow him over one day as he meets various characters and muses over past events. It is a beautiful study of grief; exquisitely acted by the ensemble cast and incredibly moving too. (9 out of 11)
FOLLOWING (1998) – NETFLIX
Christopher Nolan’s debut no-budget feature shot at weekends with friends on 16mm black-and-white is a brilliant noir story. Making progressive use of natural light and locations it’s a stylish affair with a twisty plot concerning a loner who pursues a thief only to have the tables turned on him unexpectedly. (8 out of 11)
JUNO (2007) – SKY CINEMA
Ellen Page’s sparky teenage outsider gets pregnant by mistake and faces a critical life dilemma. Diablo Cody’s witty script is the star with all manner of cracking one-liners peppered throughout. Page, Michael Cera, JK Simmons, Allison Janney and Jason Bateman are hilarious too in a very funny offbeat comedy. (8.5 out of 11)
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (2016) – CINEMA
A group of heroes’ band together to protect a community against evil foes: how many times can they tell THAT story? Well, you’ve got: The Seven Samurai (1954), The Magnificent Seven (1960), Battle Beyond The Stars (1980), A Bugs Life (1998), Avengers Assemble (2012) and now The Magnificent Seven again. The latter movie from Antoine Fuqua stars: Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio plus another fun turn from Chris Pratt. Having established the cowboys and villains it sets about delivering a cracking piece of entertainment. The last hour stands out as a scintillating series of set-pieces, shootouts and explosions and I just had loads of fun with it despite the generic narrative.(9 out of 11)
SPY (2015) – SKY CINEMA
Funny person Melissa McCarthy was hilarious in Bridesmaids (2011) and subsequently has been in some hit-and-miss comedies including: Tammy (2014) and Identity Thief (2013). However, in Spy she perfectly captures her downtrodden-underdog-meets-loud-sweary-women-persona in a slick, knowing and very funny espionage parody. The whole cast including: gut-cracking Jason Statham, Peter Serafanowicz, Jude Law and McCarthy herself excel in a joke-a-second-action-fest which had me in stitches. (8 out of 11)
STEVE JOBS (2015) – SKY CINEMA
Writer Aaron Sorkin is obviously a genius because once again he takes a potentially dry subject matter – as he did with The Social Network (2010) – and creates a fascinating character study of a complex man. Jobs is an irascible marketing “god” surrounded by mere mortals struggling to meet his product launch demands. With Michael Fassbender brilliant as the Apple head honcho, Sorkin proves it is THE character and not the tech which sells drama. As usual Danny Boyle directs with aplomb too in a brilliantly structured and written story. (9 out of 11)
UNDER THE SHADOW (2016) – CINEMA
Set in Tehran during 1980s at the height of Iran-Iraq conflict, a mother and young daughter are haunted by a Djinn spirit as war spirals violently outside. Overall it is an excellent Iranian low-budget horror film – while similar in theme and story to Dark Water (2002) and The Babadook (2014) – that delivers some fine supernatural scares and socio-political subtext within the suspenseful action. (8 out of 11)
BEST OF THE REST
11 MINUTES (2015) – NETFLIX
Intriguing ensemble drama which begins slowly and full of mystery as various character lives come to entwine in a very watchable Polish thriller with a twist. (7 out of 11)
ABC’s OF DEATH (2012) – NETFLIX
This is a gruesome, horrific, nasty, heartless and sickening anthology of horror stories. Many of the twenty-six short films are excellent but others are so poor they are virtually unwatchable. Lots of gore, humour and sicko stuff for horror fans to get their jaws into though! (Mark: 6 out of 11)
BAD NEIGHBOURS 2 (2016) – BA INFLIGHT
Sequel to the hilarious sleeper hit comedy starring Seth Rogen, Zac Efron and Rose Byrne. This time the married thirtysomethings battle a sorority house instead in a hit-and-miss film that recycles its’ best gags from the first film. (6 out of 11)
BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016) – BA INFLIGHT
The visuals and action are brilliant as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Lex Luthor face-off in a chaotic superhero trifle. Zach Snyder’s vision is impressive but his storytelling is way off as dream sequences, narrative strands and subplots all collide in an unsatisfactory whole. Looks good – shame about the lack of a coherent story! (6 out of 11)
FRENCH CONNECTION II (1975) – SKY CINEMA
A decent Marseilles-set sequel to the stunning French Connection (1971) as “fish-out-of-water” cop Popeye Doyle hunts down heroin trafficker Fernando Rey. This is gritty, grainy and dark as Gene Hackman tears up the screen with a brutish and brilliant performance. (7 out of 11 for the film/10 out of 11 – for Gene!)
I SAW THE LIGHT (2015) – BA INFLIGHT
So-so biopic of the legendary country singer Hank Williams features a fine performance from Tom Hiddleston and some classic country music; but in terms of structure and scope is an above-average TV movie at best. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
PARADOX (2016) – NETFLIX
Not-too-bad-time-travel-thriller inspired by And Then There Were None with a TV-movie cast but plenty of twists to keep the interest. (6 out of 11)
PRIMER (2004) – NETFLIX
Shane Carruth’s mind-swirling no-budget time-travel tale has two friends who invent a time machine and then. . . I’m not sure what happened after that as the narrative was too confusing for me. Either a work of genius or pretentious mess; one has to admire his intellectual vision even if it lacks real drama or emotion. (7 out of 11)
A fun, tricksy and paradoxical time-travel film which centres around the intriguing premise of a camera which can take a photo of events 24 hours into the future. The Shallow Grave (1994) plot finds around three friends who try to exploit the camera to their own gain only for it to bite them on the arse! (7.5 out of 11)
TRAINWRECK (2015) – SKY CINEMA
Amy Schumer’s starring debut directed by Judd Apatow is funny in places with a fizzy lead performance from the comedian. She portrays a thirtysomething who sleeps around and gets drunk while avoiding commitment; until her free spirit, is recuperated by Bill Hader’s likeable surgeon. Decent cameos and some great one-liners make it watchable but ultimately it’s a conventional rom-com which runs out of steam before the cringe-inducing ending. (7 out of 11)
TRIPLE 9 (2015) – BA INFLIGHT
John Hillcoat’s contemporary cop thriller has a cracking ensemble cast, testosterone dripping from the screen and powerful action throughout. Covering similar ground to Ben Affleck’s The Town (2010) – but without the romance – it pits dirty cops against kind-of-good-cops and throws Kate Winslet’s bouffant-haired-gangster into the mix. Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Woody Harrelson and Winslet make this genre movie very watchable and worth a butchers. (7.5 out of 11)
I’d never seen this film before and am so glad I did because it now in my top twenty best films I have EVER witnessed. It is a tour-de-force of writing, directing, acting, design, narration, humour, drama, sound and imagination. Based on Gunter Grass’ exceptional novel The Tin Drum – directed by Volker Schlondorff – it is set in the realistic backdrop of post-World War 1 Germany, and during World War 2, before veering into magical realism and surrealism to present a giddy allegorical tale of some wonder.
The comical opening contains a prologue which sets the ambiguous tone of humour and darkness. It establishes the ancestry of our leading character Oskar Matzerath (amazing David Bennent) and clearly echoes and influences current filmmakers such as Paul Thomas Anderson, the Coens and Wes Anderson with its’ curious oddity. From there on Oskar himself enters the world and while initially reluctant he is forced into life and what a life that is!
Born with the mind of an adult, at the age of three, Oskar decides that he will NOT grow up for as long as he chooses. Anyone who crosses him is subject to a visceral scream which is loud enough to shatter glass. In addition, Oskar also smashes a tin drum incessantly revealing a psychotic pathology which disregards the pain and suffering of those around him. My reading is that Oskar is representative of the rise of fascism and Hitler in these difficult socio-political times for Germany. This idea is further supported by the fact his mother has two men chasing her affection; a gruff German grocer, Alfred, and gentler Polish man, Jan; and either could be Oskar’s father. These are divisive and confusing times for Germany, and a child, especially one who is as precocious, strange and violent as Oskar.
The meat of the film is continual conflict, death and dark situations. The scenes on the beach with eels being captured using a dead horse’s head is full of symbolism and a black humour I will never forget. More conflict for Oskar ensues as he rejects all authority including religion. When his mother dies, seemingly from overwhelming guilt, and his friend, a Jewish toymaker, commits suicide following Nazi oppression, Oskar’s life is further stained by death. Latterly, the film enters a stage where – while he is still physically a three-year-old – he hits puberty and become sexually active. The explicit sex scenes involving Maria, a sixteen year old shop girl, are disturbing and unforgettable and this leads to further conflict with Oskar’s father who eventually marries Maria. Anger and jealousy provokes Oskar so much he literally runs off with the circus and becomes part of a troupe that entertains German soldiers during the war. It is not long though before further tragedy strikes and his strange romance with dwarf singer Roswitha, ends suddenly with her demise.
The Tin Drum is intense, visceral and brave filmmaking. While it uses history as a backbone, its’ muscle, skin and clothes are eccentricity, allegory and insanity. It was one of the most financially successful German films of the era and won the 1979 Oscar for Best Foreign Film. I guess I missed it because it is rarely shown on television, no doubt due to the controversial sex scenes involving 11 year-old Bennent. Overall, it is one of the most original stories I have seen on screen and the child actor who played Oskar was a revelation. I have rarely been so horrified, moved and made to laugh as much as I have by a recent cinema visit. I would heartily recommend this film to anyone serious about making films and those who demand intensity in their cinema viewing.
I love watching TV shows and films. Mainly to fill a void in my soul, or put it another way, stop me drinking myself to death. Oh, also because I just enjoy escaping reality by watching stuff on a screen.
I have split my September Screenwash reviews into television and movies, because I watched so much damned stuff last month. Here are the TV shows I watched with marks out of eleven.
**THERE MAY BE SPOILERS AHEAD**
ASH V. THE EVIL DEAD (2015) – SEASON 1 – STARZ/VIRGIN
This 30-years-later-sequel to the original Sam Raimi Evil Dead trilogy featuring Bruce Campbell is a gory, cheesy and bloody delight. It brings back one of the most iconic-blue-shirted-wise-cracking-big-chinned-chain-sawing-action-horror-dudes ever in Ash Williams.
Having accidentally conjured up the Deadites from the Necronomicon – Book of the Dead, Ash heads cross country battling demons and ghouls with his trusty chainsaw and boomstick. He finds new friends and enemies along the way and Campbell is on wonderful form as the sexist, ageing demon-killer.
Plot wise the story is flimsy and generic, yet the bloody and bone-crunching gore is brilliant and Bruce Campbell is hilarious as usual. Ignore the evil and abominable reimagining from 2013 and get on board this silly and superb horror nostalgia trip with Ash Williams and co. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
BLACK MIRROR – WHITE CHRISTMAS (2014) – NETFLIX
Charlie Brooker is pretty much a genius in my eyes and as well as being a bastard-funny TV critic, he is also a formidable storyteller. The Black Mirror stories echo the short-sharp-shocking plots of Rod Sterling’s The Twilight Zone and Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected; yet with a very contemporary and technological twist. Season 3 Black Mirror is imminent on Netflix yet this Chrimbo special provided some darkly imaginative tales for the season.
Brooker presents a triptych of stories including: a Dating Coach (John Hamm) guiding – via contact-lens-style-Go-Pro – a naïve lad on a sexual conquest; a spoilt and demanding rich bitch (Oona Chaplin) who buys the ability to digitally clone herself so she can be her own personal ‘slave’; and a story of a doomed relationship between Rafe Spall and Janet Montgomery where an app allows a human to physically BLOCK them in reality. Safe to say all the narratives criss-cross to fiendish effect as cyber-technology is presented as initially a positive thing but ultimately something horrific which undermines humanity and hinders emotions and physical contact. Brooker is of the view that the future isn’t orange but very black indeed. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
FARGO (2015) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX
Was Season 2 Fargo any good? It sure was – darn tooting! For me this was almost perfect television viewing. It had a great story, memorable characters, and brilliant dialogue and is filtered, like the first season, through the twisted eccentricities, imagery, sounds, music and narrative style of the Coen brothers. Having said that, the writer and showrunner Noah Hawley has taken the Coen’s football and sprinted away with it and almost transcended the primary source material.
Season 2’s plots – and there’s some serpentine shit going down – are set in Fargo and surrounding counties, mid 1979. We focus on country gangsters the Gerhardts and the attempted takeover by some Kansas City “business” people who think they can run the hicks out of town. In amongst the bloody hits, kidnapping and badassery we have Patrick Wilson and Ted Danson as the good cops who, having seen the horrors of war overseas, just want an easy life. Thrown into the mix by the dark lords of fate are self-improver Kirsten Dunst (amazing) and simple butcher Jess Plemons who get out of their depth very quickly.
Overall, the drama, humour and suspense are incredible as is the cast, notably: eloquent hitman Bokeem Woodbine and brutal rural gangsters Jean Smart and Jeffrey Donovan. Philosophically and thematically the writing is very strong too with an existential bent which makes the whole show gold-plated genre TV of the highest quality. (Mark: 10 out of 11)
THE KILLING (2007) – SEASON 1 – NETFLIX
I recall when this first hit the TV screens the Guardianistas shitting bricks over how good this Danish cop-procedural-politico drama was. The moody atmosphere, murky lighting and winter jumpers were all the rage with the lentil-eaters; as were the performances of Sofie Grabol, Soren Malling and the formidable Lars Mikkelsen. In the cold light of day and almost ten years later there is still much to like about this Scandi-genre-cop-thriller. Over twenty gruelling episodes we find ourselves amidst the investigation of the vicious murder of a young woman called Nanna Larsen. Simultaneously a mayoral election is taking place in Copenhagen and the two events become fatefully entwined.
Ultimately, it is pretty generic stuff with the device of “red herring” suspects and characters revealing information later than they could of being over-used. Also, it could’ve have been wrapped up WAY before the twenty episode run, yet, it was gripping throughout with some terrific suspense. I especially liked Grabol’s intuitive cop who could see past the surface and into the psychology of a situation or person. Her obsessional cop was flawed but brilliant at her job even though her family life was threatening to implode. Also, exceptional is Lars Mikkelsen as mayor candidate Troels Hartmann, a man trying to do the right thing, yet with ghosts of the past haunting him. The best scenes were with the Larsen family whose lives were about-faced by the death of their daughter. Their grief brought a real depth to proceedings with many heart-breaking and emotive moments surrounding their ordeal. Perhaps over-hyped on first release, this remains a tremendous cop drama with loads of twists to keep you hooked. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK (2014) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX
What started, in Season 1, as an ensemble prison drama with the focus mainly on spoilt-brattish-over-grown-Prom-Queen, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), has developed quite brilliantly, by Season 2, into a sexy-black-comedy-drama of the highest quality. Piper is of course still there driving me mad with her bouts of narcissistic wants but this time she’s toughened up and is now bouncing off the inmates, walls and screws with a bit more spunk and verve. However, the power of this narrative is now driven by the ensemble characters – both inmates and guards – who all get a chance to shine in a collection of stories, flashbacks and vignettes which the writers weld together expertly over thirteen brilliant episodes.
Season 2 develops further the histories of, among others, love-struck Morello, cancer-sufferer Rosa, Taystee, Black Cindy, Poussey and Sister Ingalls; as well revealing more about crooked Assistant Warden Figeroa, prison Counsellor Sam Healy and ambitious head screw Joe Caputo. Also, entering the prison was a cracking antagonist Vee Parker brilliant portrayed by Lorraine Toussaint and her battle to control rackets in jail saw her on a collision course with ‘Red’ Reznikov (Kate Mulgrew). Overall, there was SO much going on in the show yet it didn’t feel cluttered. The characters were drawn so well, relying on archetypes and human definition rather than soapy stereotypes. I was just going to give it one more season but the drama, dialogue, performance, humour and pathos delivered here made me want to go in for Season 3 and beyond. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)
Following on from listing six of my favourite British sitcom episodes recently, I thought I’d have a bit of fun venting about some of the most irritating characters I have witnessed on film or TV screen. I mean did the writers intend for them to be annoying pricks or was it the actor or direction or performance or all of the above? Anyway, whatever the weather, its great fun kicking the boot into these annoying arseholes!
ALL THE KIDS (EXCEPT CHARLIE) – WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971)
I’ll ignore the Tim Burton version of this story and concentrate on the original adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic morality adventure. If you don’t know the story a reclusive sweet-maker lures kids to his factory on the promise of a “golden ticket” competition win. There’s Teutonic glutton Augustus Gloop; weirdo TV addict Mike Teevee; demanding, harpy-bitch Veruca Salt, upper-class, gum-maniac Violet Beauregarde and finally humble Charlie Bucket. Each kid, Charlie aside, is a spoilt bastard and each satisfactorily gets their just desserts, as Dahl’s fantasy punishes the rich and greedy ones to maximum audience delight.
FERGEE – JUDGE DREDD (1995)
I could basically include ANY character portrayed by Rob Schneider but I reserve special hatred for this monstrosity. I mean the film Judge Dredd was pretty bad, however, the action and design were bearable and Stallone – despite removing the protective mask – was kind of okay. YET the tone of the film was all over the shop! None more so than when acting cyst Rob Schneider pops up as an unofficial comedy sidekick for Dredd. Yeah – like that was a staple of the cynical, dystopian and violent world the 2000AD comic was known for right! No, I didn’t think so! Morons!
JAR JAR BINKS – STAR WARS: PHANTOM MENACE etc. (1999)
Jar Jar, let’s face it, is an obvious choice but he is a complete cunt! The worst crime is, as the comic relief, he is NOT funny!! Moreover, his accent is unintelligible and he suffers from looking completely stupid. The Phantom Menace (1999), while having some fantastic actors (Liam Neeson, Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor), great action and superior baddie in Darth Maul, was let down by plodding plot, soggy politics and dreadful dialogue. Yet, Jar Jar Binks was the rancid cherry on top of a rotten cake. Not only that his character was also portrayed in an abominably stereotypical fashion seeming to echo the racist early-Hollywood representations of black characters that were seen as un-heroic, dumb and figures of scorn or fun.
JOFFREY BARATHEON – GAME OF THRONES (2011 – 2014)
The prostitute-murdering-Sean-Bean-killing-bullying-maniac-twat was clearly intended to be the pantomime villain we loved to hate from the start. But, like Malfoy from Harry Potter his character and the slimy performance from Jack Gleeson, he, for me eventually became a character I just hated without any enjoyment. I mean, I know he was sadistic in his treatment of Sansa Stark and mocking of Tyrion but he was also a bottle-job when it came to battle, perfectly encapsulating the worst kind of royal family traits. Moreover, Gleeson’s soulless face, clipped speech and acting on its’ own made me want to drag him out of the television and strangle him. Of course, Joffrey would eventually get poisoned at his own wedding and much joy was had from his demise from pretty much everyone who has ever watched the show.
RUBY RHOD – THE 5th ELEMENT
Luc Besson’s imaginative and colourful sci-fi-action epic had much to enjoy, notably: the performances of Milla Jovovich’s innocent alien, Bruce Willis’ cynical taxi driver and Gary Oldman’s terrific pantomime space villain. The action comes thick and fast and the production is a joy to watch. However, just over halfway through Chris Tucker’s performance of media whore Ruby Rhod takes a massive shit on the film; one it almost never recovers from. I mean, he’s loud, high-pitched, ridiculously dressed and THINKS HE’S FUNNY! What was Besson thinking – who knows!? Even in an over-the-top-colour-clashed-sci-fi-action-romance-extravaganza Ruby Rhod was a stain and travesty of a character!
WHITNEY SOLLOWAY – THE AFFAIR (2014 – )
Clearly this spoilt upper-middle-class New York teenager was intended by the writers to be a right royal pain in the arse. She throws sweet-sixteen tantrums of the highest order throughout and her nasally high-pitched voice grated me so much that I actually stopped watching the show during the second season. While the actress Julia Goldani Telles performance is excellent, the character was just too manipulative and psychotic to ever get my sympathy. Even amidst a whole host of privileged, narcissistic first-worlders Whitney Solloway took the biscuit and in the end I hated her so much I wished she’d been killed to death!
100 NOT OUT! SOME GREAT FILMS OF 100 MINUTES OR LESS #1
We all love an epic at the cinema; a film which takes it’s time to build up character, plot and suspense. However, to write a great film under 100 or so minutes requires incredible discipline. You need tough, lean writing and a methodical film editor. You need real focus on the plot and an eye to remove the extraneous and zip the story along. You need a brevity and wit in the writing to quickly establish the characters and gain audience empathy. Most of all you need a solid structure, with pace but without losing any depth.
In this little piece, I have a look at some brilliant FEATURE films that represent marvellous examples of fantastic writing all under the magic one hundred minute mark! I imagine most of us have seen these films but if you haven’t then please do so!
12 ANGRY MEN (1957)
Bona fide classic movie adapted from the TV play by Reginald Rose and directed by the legendary filmmaker Sidney Lumet. The claustrophobic nature of a jury arguing over a murder case is brought to the boil by a superlative cast including Henry Fonda, Jack Klugman, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam etc. It’s a real festival of acting full of sweat, anger, guilt and reasonable doubt; all cooked to perfection within a hundred magnificent minutes.
ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)
John Carpenter is a master at producing lean, mean fighting machine movies. This crime film is an unofficial remake of Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo (1959) and represents your genuine-classic-low-budget-one location-siege movie with a ragtag bunch of cops and cons fighting off hordes of street scum hell bent on revenge following the death of a gang leader. The film is a gritty joy full of hard-boiled characters and dialogue with a simple yet pulsating soundtrack written by Carpenter himself.
BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984)
Basically take your pick from a slew of Woody Allen films which always tell a great story around the 90 minute mark. Yet, I chose Broadway Danny Rose as it is a comedy gem hidden amidst the treasure trove of a filmic oeuvre. It concerns a hapless agent with the worst roster of acts in New York and his hilarious run-in with the mob. Beautifully constructed with some cracking characters and one-liners, this is always worth another watch if you have 85 minutes to spare.
“He was kinda funny-looking!” THAT line basically sums up the Coen Brothers take on the kidnapping-police-procedural thriller. It’s a hilarious one-liner that becomes even funnier when delivered in the Minnesotan accent and in fact is a very important part of the plot. This film is memorable because it turns the genre on its head with a dark, funny and human story both stylish and gut-wrenching in equal measures. I mean, the killers are revealed immediately and Police Chief Marge Gunderson (wonderful Frances McDormand) solves the case quickly too. This allows the Coens to concentrate on off-beat characterisations and twist the narrative in any direction they so desire. It’s bloody, funny and moral with memorable characters that stick in the heart and mind.
THE KILLING (1956)
Not the recent Scandinavian TV show but the early Stanley Kubrik crime classic constructed in a newsreel style with an authoritative god-like third person narration. It stars Sterling Hayden, Elisha Cook Jnr and Timothy Carey as assorted array of lowdown criminals all combining to pull off a daring racecourse heist. The brilliance is in the metronomic telling of the tale as Kubrik builds suspense and tension throughout with a filmic confidence which would very much become part of his later, and much longer, epics.
MAD MAX: ROAD WARRIOR (1981)
Slight cheat because the titular character was already established during George Miller’s original hard-core low-budget classic. Yet, this is a powerful and brutal apocalyptic Western with cars instead of horses and punk-bandits instead of indigenous Native Americans providing the foes. It smashes along at a wicked pace as hard-bitten and life-grilled Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) fights hell-for-leather to survive in the Aussie wasteland while hunting for gas and food.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)
George A. Romero’s low-fi classic is the Godfather of all modern zombie movies. It’s another siege film as a group of various characters become holed up in a Pennsylvanian farmhouse attempting to avoid the living dead’s bloodthirsty clutches. Made literally on a shoestring from money raised independently (no Kickstarter back in those days), it would become one of the most successful horror films ever outside the Hollywood system. It’s grainy, creepy and gory and offers a subversive critique of the politics of the era.
One of my films of 2015 I have now seen it twice and it is like a snake-charmer; I just cannot help but fall for its twisted, hypnotic and serpentine narrative. In my original review a year ago I wrote:
“It may completely fall apart on subsequent viewings but for the running time it offered a lot more than many other star-driven, big-budget movies. . .”
However, I can safely say this brilliant cult time-travel movie based on a classic Heinlein short story called All You Zombies gets better with further viewing and stands up on further inspection. I’m still scratching my head at how it all fits together, but that is part of the pleasure too.
RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)
Oh for the days when Tarantino didn’t have a lot of money and wrote cracking muscular scripts which defy genre conventions and rip along at breakneck speed. His recent epic films are just as entertaining as this heist-gone-wrong thriller but longer and arguably in need of a trim or two. I’ve seen this film many times and it still retains its vice-like power, as the masculine egos clash and kill each other right up to the bloody end.
This is a both a literary and cinematic classic. It’s a snap-shot rollercoaster smash-cut of junkie vignettes which delivers on all sensory and emotional levels; with a cracking soundtrack to boot! From the twisted mind of Irvine Welsh, writer John Hodge and director Danny Boyle takes the seemingly unfilmable book and craft a fizzing, twisted vision of heroin addicts, which stylises the lifestyle with dark humour and a sense of loss at the devastating impact of addiction. Choose life: choose Trainspotting!
I love this film. It’s a real B-movie guilty pleasure with seismic underground monsters attacking a small back water town ironically named Perfection. The action bolts along and it wears its Jaws-in-the-dirt influences hilariously. Most of all I love the characters, notably Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward’s handyman buddies trying desperately to escape their dead end jobs. It’s a fun script with loads of action and great one-liners with Bacon himself having loads of fun without hamming it up.
Take your pick from any number of Pixar classics notably the Toy Story trilogy, however, I have chosen this gem because it is just so damned imaginative and original. I mean, how’d you get a winning narrative out of an odd couple bromance between a grieving old geezer and an overweight Boy Scout. But this film does so in a great story about overcoming grief, companionship and finding comfort in helping others. Most of all it’s funny, touching and heart-toasting and does it all in fewer than 100 marvellous minutes.