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My Top 50 Movies
1 . Mulholland Drive (2001)
2 . Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)
3 . Taxi Driver (1976)
4 . Lost Highway (1997)
5 . Psycho (1960)
6 . 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
7 . Boogie Nights (1997)
8 . The Swimmer (1968)
9 . Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) C'era una volta il West
10 . Trainspotting (1996)
11 . Performance (1970)
12 . This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
13 . Nuts in May (1976)
14 . 24 Hour Party People (2002)
15 . Rosemary's Baby (1968)
16 . Annie Hall (1977)
17 . Harold and Maude (1971)
18 . The Great Silence (1968) Il grande silenzio
19 . Blood Simple (1984)
20 . Pulp Fiction (1994)
21 . Videodrome (1983)
22 . Suspiria (1977)
23 . Blood and Black Lace (1964) Sei donne per l'assassino
24 . Carrie (1976)
25 . Daughters of Darkness (1971) Les lèvres rouges
26 . Dirty Harry (1971)
27 . Get Carter (1971)
28 . The Conversation (1974)
29 . Jaws (1975)
30 . Memento (2000)
31 . The Shining (1980)
32 . Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)
33 . One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
34 . Deliverance (1972)
35 . Reservoir Dogs (1992)
36 . Blue Velvet (1986)
37 . A Clockwork Orange (1971)
38 . Gravity (2013)
39 . Barbarella (1968)
40 . American Psycho (2000)
41 . The King of Comedy (1982)
42 . Network (1976)
43 . Man Bites Dog (1992) C'est arrivé près de chez vous
44 . Goodfellas (1990)
45 . Walkabout (1971)
46 . Danger: Diabolik (1968) Diabolik
47 . Deep Red (1975) Profondo rosso
48 . Donnie Darko (2001)
49 . Tenebrae (1982) Tenebre
50 . Ed Wood (1994)
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(no spoilers have been included in the comments below)
In Darkness (2018)
Uneven thriller with some good things about it
A blind pianist is the only witness to the murder of her upstairs neighbour. The killing seems to be connected to a Serbian war criminal who is the father of the dead girl.
This movie started off quite strongly as a tense psychological thriller but about half-way in, it took a bit of a sudden change of direction into spy film territory. It was at this point that I felt it started to lose steam somewhat. Part of this is simply down to my personal view that spy films tend to be exposition-driven and a little tedious, whereas psychological thrillers by contrast offer up more intrigue while being a lot less routine. So, this change of direction, while unpredictable, was not to an overall benefit to the movie as a whole I thought. Character motivations also were somewhat unclear at times too, and it did feel that the script could have been re-worked to some extent. It was still an enjoyable enough thriller however, with some suspenseful scenes and an interesting central character. Although, it has to be said that the big reveal in the finale was a bit bonkers and throws up a few questions given what we have seen before. I am sort of quite forgiving of thrillers throwing in far-fetched stuff like this though which can be kind of fun and it did get me discussing the movie afterwards at length which led me to deciding to add an extra star rating to it for this reason alone. My concerns for the film were less to do with unrealistic plot developments though and more to do with tired spy film tropes. The result is a film which is a bit uneven. But it is one which still is a good enough watch if you like thrillers.
Swinging Safari (2018)
70's set knockabout Aussie comedy
This Australian comedy takes place in the 1970's in a cul-de-sac in a suburb near a beach-front. Its knockabout story focuses on the three families who live there. Written and directed by Stephan Elliott, this film is an autobiographical account of his life as a kid back in the day, with a few inventions added for good measure.
This is a movie which will mainly appeal to those who can remember the 70's. It benefits from a colourful look which celebrates that decade's style and décor in all its gaudy excess. Just for its period detail alone, it is quite a good watch. The story is split 50/50 between the perspective of the adults and the kids. The comedy is often pretty broad and not in all honestly always fully funny, although it does definitely provide a few chuckles throughout. There is no narrative to speak of really and nothing of especial consequence happens more or less. Amongst other events, there is a beached whale, a swinger's party, kids making violent DIY movies, shag-pile carpets, K-TEL records, an Evel Knievel costume and unfortunate pets. Everything is a bit random and several scenes don't particularly lead anywhere. The concoction adds up to a sporadically amusing comedy which ultimately gets by on its fun 70' vibes.
A visually resplendant modern noir, which is lacking in the story department
A crime-lord, two gangsters, a dying school-teacher, a waitress and a janitor are the characters who operate in and around a train terminal in the dead of night. Their stories inter-connect in unexpected ways.
I guess I was a little bit disappointed with this one in truth, as I expected quite a lot from it. The set-up was very minimalistic and the story was told in a fairly unengaging manner, with the characters not drawing us in as much as I would have wished. It doesn't have a bad cast in fairness. Margot Robbie is always great and she is once again good value as a femme fatale and looks fantastic (of course). While Simon Pegg is another actor I like and he does the best he can with what he is given. Mike Myers is also notable here too in an odd role. But, overall, the story wasn't the strong point here at all and ultimately let the film down somewhat. But what it does have in spades is great visual style. The lighting and colour schemes were quite beautiful and certainly make up for the deficiencies in other areas, at least to some extent. It is an example of a neo-noir, with characters and settings which fit the bill. Without a doubt, this is an example of style over content, which is not something I have a problem with and do enjoy the pure cinema elements of this one. I just wish that the story had been a bit more engaging though.
Impressive psychological gothic drama
A mother and three children flee an abusive patriarch and move to a remote rural home. While there, strange events begin to occur while dark secrets seem to hover in the background.
This gothic film is one which I felt improved as it went on. By the finale, once the twist ending had slotted into place, it made you reconsider what you had just seen and realise that the fabric of the narrative was more complex and layered than previously realised. It later becomes apparent that the narrative is very fragmented and that the story is in a large part one from the perspective of the unreliable narrator. I like movies like this, which can be regarded as puzzles, with pieces not yet in place, or completely missing. Consequently, The Secret of Marrowbone is a very worthwhile film if you appreciate this kind of thing too.
Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)
A very likable bit of comedy-horror-musical nonsense
If you have been waiting some time for a horror-musical-teen-comedy-Christmas-movie, then it has to be said the wait is over. Anna and the Apocalypse boldly goes there. It centres on a group of teens who find themselves in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Why is there a zombie apocalypse? Not important. But it is a good excuse for some serious genre mash-up action. I am not necessarily a natural audience for this kind of thing but I would say you would need to be being a bit overly harsh not coming away from this one with some positive feelings. It is a very likable film with some ambition to do something new.
The star of the show here for me was certainly the very beautiful Ella Hunt, who plays the title character. Clearly a performer with some definite star quality and versatility and one for the future hopefully. The rest of the cast are good too it has to be said, and it was nice seeing old Dennis Pennis himself, Paul Kaye, appear as an unhinged headmaster. It has to be said that the comedy is a bit uneven to say the least, although there are some good jokes sprinkled throughout about evacuation selfies, Justin Bieber and all the rest of it but I found it only sporadically funny if I am honest. The horror side of the fence is covered with the usual zombie violence which is visceral and creative enough to keep us interested. The songs were actually quite a welcome injection, as it was with those that the film was at its most distinctive. And also, quite pleasingly, things are not rounded off with a Hollywood ending either, which I thought was the right way to go for this kind of thing.
On the whole, while this is definitely a bit hit and miss, I commend it for its ambition and fun-factor. When a film has the good grace to at least try something new, it deserves a chance and I wish it the very best.
Retro-styled horror-thriller, which will divide opinion
This is an example of a recent type of movie typified by Amer (2009), The Strange Colour of your Body's Tears (2013) and The Love Witch (2016), which derives much of its aesthetic and aural influence from the Italian giallo films of the 70's. Being a confirmed sucker for this sub-genre, I pretty much immediately cut Piercing some slack more or less straight away. The soundtrack includes music from the likes of Goblin and Ennio Morricone, which adorned giallo classics from the past, while the look was reminiscent of this period too, with decidedly retro décor and devices, including a yellow (giallo) phone and record player. The 21st century doesn't encroach much in this movie. It has to be said that its chief strength is certainly in its look and sound, which also includes extensive use of Brian DePalma inspired split-screen too. The story itself additionally recalls elements of the Japanese horror Audition (1999). It is about a sociopathic man who stops short of murdering his baby daughter when he thinks he hears her talk to him, impelling him to murder a call girl. Consequently, he books a hotel room and hires a girl but the trouble is that she seems to be as deranged as he, leading the spider to become the fly.
Christopher Abbott and Mia Wasikowska star in this one, with very few other actors appearing. It is a very minimalistic affair story-wise, in what boils down to a cat-and-mouse narrative. Truthfully, the story is probably the weak point here, as it doesn't particularly go anywhere and could have done with a bit of extra development I reckon. There isn't quite enough meat to it to ensure it is entirely satisfying. Still, even though I have some reservations, I did enjoy this one nevertheless. I appreciated the giallo influence (even though it certainly is not a giallo itself) and did like the overall visual presentation. Some scenes were particularly well done, such as the bad trip sequence, and it does have a somewhat off-kilter feel to it in terms of atmosphere and performances throughout. One thing is for sure though, this one is going to be very divisive, as its flagrant disregard for narrative will put a few folks well off but if you don't mind that too much and have a love of the flamboyant style of the 70's Italian thrillers then this one should at least tick a few boxes for sure.
The Butterfly Tree (2017)
Unusual Australian drama, which combines dark themes with elements of beauty
A father and son are in the midst of an uneasy relationship after the death of their wife/mother. Into this scenario enters an ex burlesque dancer who owns the local flower shop. Both males develop an infatuation for her as the seek recovery.
This Australian drama combines some beautiful colourful imagery which sometimes crosses into fantastic reality with a sombre and emotional story grounded in grim reality. As such it is quite an unusual combination but one which worked for me, with the sadder aspects of the story-line ramping up in the latter third. The issues touched upon include suicide, grief and cancer. Its pretty heavy stuff but well delivered by its small cast. Melissa George (who to me will forever be the mysterious Camilla Rhodes from the utterly seminal Mulholland Drive (2001)), puts in a great performance here as the character in which the whole story pivots. She introduces colour into the lives of the man and boy and acts as a springboard for them to move forward, even while she herself is going through a trauma. It could be said that the characterisations and connections are a little under-cooked somewhat perhaps, with little chemistry between George's character and the husband Al, but I thought she did work very well in tandem with Ed Oxenbould as the youngster who is infatuated with her. While it is a sombre film, played out in a minor key, it also has some bold and beautiful imagery of butterflies, flowers and Melissa George in burlesque gear and roller-skates. It all adds up to an unusual drama which deals with some heavy topics in a left-of-centre way.
Mary Shelley (2017)
Very good biopic
This period biopic centres on the 16-year-old writer Mary Wollstonecraft who would go on to become ever famous for writing the novel Frankenstein, which is amongst the most celebrated of all literature from the Romantic era. The film tries to unearth via her life experiences what motivated her to create this story about a tragic, isolated monster and its selfish creator. Specifically, her experiences with her husband the poet Percy Shelley and the libertine writer Lord Byron are considered in some way relevant. As such the film has a feminist slant to it, given that at the time women were simply not allowed to write such dark material. As such, the book was published anonymously in 1818, with her name only appearing on it from 1823 onwards. Having read the novel, it has to be said that it is seriously far from light-weight stuff and is highly literate from start to finish; overall an incredible achievement for an 18-year old.
Elle Fanning stars in the lead role. I had previously seen her appear as the main character in the slick and style-driven horror movie The Neon Demon (2016), and it appears she is putting together an interesting body of work. She does good work here and leads the picture well. It could possibly be argued that the film could have delved a little more into the Frankenstein material itself and tapped into the imagery and poetry of its images, as it is, it is a much more grounded presentation of the events - certainly a lot more so that Ken Russell's Gothic (1986), which was a phantasmagorical version of events at Byron's Geneva house on the fateful night in which the Frankenstein story germinated. Having said all that, I actually preferred Mary Shelley to Gothic, and appreciated the more straight-ahead biopic approach. It allowed us to understand the characters and context a little more. And while it could have perhaps been a little bolder in some ways, I do have to say that I nevertheless found it to be a very compelling period drama about a true heroine and pioneer.
A great celebration of the Grand-Guignol and its ultimate leading lady, Paula Maxa
This somewhat unusual feature incorporates elements of slasher horror with a period drama. Its story centres around the woman who could be described as the original scream queen, Paula Maxa. She was the lead actress in the Parisian Théâtre du Grand-Guignol; a theatre infamous in some quarters for putting on dramatic shows which enacted out a variety of incredibly bloody murders. This is a place so influential on the subsequent horror cinema genre that the term Grand-Guignol has become a broad term readily associated with a certain type of gory excess. But even then, I daresay most people don't know a great deal about the place itself. Perhaps the chief strength of The Most Assassinated Woman in the World is that it is largely set in this theatre and showcases some of the salacious visceral plays they put on. I was actually quite amazed at the level of violence that these theatre productions revelled in and can see that they were precursors to the cinematic splatter movies kicked off with the release of Herschell Gordon Lewis's Blood Feast in 1963. Its probably no coincidence that the Grand-Guignol itself closed the year prior to that ground-breaking gore-fest, as once cinema finally caught up it was always going to struggle to remain as relevant.
The movie itself mixes reality with fiction. To that end we have an authentic place and a bunch of real characters form the basis of the story. The one fictional character, the reporter Jean, is a connection to the other main invention of the serial killer who has an obsession with Maxa. But even this too had a basis in some reality in that there was an active serial killer operating in the Montmartre area at the time. It is overall a nicely original idea for a film and it makes a great backdrop for a story. I particularly liked the gloomy photography which not only reflected much of the Parisian art of the 1930's but also made you feel you really were in the bowels of this old theatre. It created considerable atmosphere. Anna Mouglalis is also excellent as Maxa, and the film tries to explore to some degree what it was like for her being effectively murdered on stage every night in a myriad of gruesome ways, many of which are listed in one inspired sequence. Another effective aspect was the score by Keren Ann, which mixed period accurate music with energetic modern stuff which combined to give the film a unique energy I thought.
This is definitely a pleasingly distinctive movie. The excellent setting and interesting central character are enough in themselves to ensure this is a fascinating watch, with the bloody re-enactments in the theatre itself being enough of a reason alone to at least see this given their attention to authentic detail. But the whole production is elevated further by blending in a serial killer angle, dark past psychological events from the heroine's life and the additional pressures caused by the outcry of the moral guardians of the city. It ticks a few boxes, this one.
Le retour du héros (2018)
Funny French period comedy with excellent interplay from the two brilliant leads
Period dramas are not usually my thing to be perfectly honest and when I read that this movie may in fact be 'swashbuckling' I began to get very worried and hitherto horrifying suppressed memories of Johnny Depp pretending to be Keith Richards in a pirate hat came rushing back to me. So, it came as a great relief and surprise to discover that this film is not really swashbuckling in the least and features no characters pretending to be Bill Wyman while sporting a Bicorne hat. What it actually is, is in fact a rather successfully funny period comedy. The story basically boils down to a French army captain who goes off to war in Austria but neglects to subsequently send letters to his bride-to-be. This leads to her sister surreptitiously writing fake letters pretending to be him with ever-increasing lies and exaggerations. The problems start when this man returns as a vagabond after having deserted his regiment, leading to him adopting the fake heroic persona created for him by the sister, only increasing the tension between them as a consequence.
This one works in a large part on account of the acting performances from the two leads Jean Dujardin and Mélanie Laurent, who are both major French movie stars. Both of them are quite excellent and funny in their roles, with terrific chemistry. The script is definitely amusing and channels the early 19th century by way of 2018, where at one-point Laurent complains about a sexist comment with the line 'it isn't the Dark Ages, this is 1812!'. So, there is much great verbal interplay between the two leads but pleasingly, the film is not afraid to throw in the odd visual gag too, such as where Dujardin hilariously spits into a baby's carriage. Towards the end, there is an injection of morose realism with a well-acted dinner scene, where Dujardin for once details the true nature of his war experiences. But it has to be said, for the vast majority of the time, this one is very much for laughs. The beautiful period detail and costuming only adds a nice dose of colour and production value to proceedings too. But, the most important factor is that this is a very successfully engaging and funny bit of French comedy.
Piano to Zanskar (2018)
Meditative documentary about an eccentric journey
This documentary follows an English veteran piano tuner called Desmond Gentle, who embarks on a mission to deliver a 100-year old piano to a small village high up in the Himalayas, transported using only people and yaks. In doing so, this will make this piano the highest in the world.
This is the kind of story that celebrated German film-maker Werner Herzog could easily have documented, after all, he pulled a steamboat over a hill in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. The only difference is that Piano to Zanskar doesn't have a demented maniac like Klaus Kinski raving about like a madman on the periphery making a difficult objective borderline impossible. The people in this wilderness trek are all low-key, humble individuals so there are no heavy melodramas to be found here. The journey is not without drama, however, as the footage of the somewhat quite obviously dangerous descent down a mountainside with large piano makes abundantly clear. But, ultimately, this documentary becomes less about the trek itself than the overall objective. The people of Lingshed are fascinating in themselves. They are mostly cut-off from the rest of the world, so their way of life is much more different to our own. They value, far more, the simple pleasures in life in which we sometimes forget. So, when this 100-year old piano is reconstructed and played for the first time in this place in the middle of the mountains, its has a beautiful impact. There are other unusual moments to savour too, such as when Gentle's young female assistant leads a bunch of children through a dance routine where they all singalong to 'Movin' on Up' by Primal Scream. It is a beautiful, strange moment and, needless to say, I don't think it is one Bobby Gillespie and the boys could have envisioned their ecstasy-fuelled anthem ever being used for.
This is a highly meditative documentary, which also boasts some beautiful photography of a dramatic natural environment. It is low-key and somewhat spiritual in effect and is well worth checking out.
Three Summers (2017)
Very enjoyable Aussie ensemble-comedy
I guess the most immediately noticeable thing about Three Summers is that its writer/director is Ben Elton. Seemingly, he has been living in Australia for some time and this is I guess his take on his adopted home. The set-up is quite good, with the action taking place over three summers at a music festival in Western Australia called Westival. While it has a romantic comedy as its main plot thread, it is essentially fairly plot-less and is much more a character-driven ensemble piece, which focuses on many Aussie stereotypes. As such, it mixes a lot of humour with serious social issues, such as racism.
I have to say, I found this one to be a very enjoyable affair. There were enough characters and varied goings-on at the festival to ensure it always remained entertaining and if something isn't working so great then something else is sure to come along soon to take us in a different direction. Like most comedies, it is only sporadically laugh-out-loud funny but it was definitely funny reasonably often. I found Robert Sheehan's uptight Theremin player to be the most consistently funny element of the story. His rocky romance with the rather gorgeous Rebecca Breeds was well done too I thought. The film probably floundered most when it went for the serious stuff, such as racism and bigotry. It was a little heavy-handed and contrived to be honest but fair play for introducing a bit of social consciousness into the mix at least. The music on the other hand was a lot surer footed, with some particularly interesting folk-Theremin fusions - which is not the kind of thing you hear every day, lets be honest. All-in-all, I definitely would put this down as a very fun bit of Aussie comedy.
Steel Country (2018)
Solid, if fairly familiar, small-town mystery/thriller
It is surprising to learn that this is a British made film. Made entirely with UK money, an English director and a couple of Irish actors in the two lead roles. Most impressive given that this passes pretty easily as an American product. It falls into a category of crime/thriller/mystery which there seems to be quite a few of, i.e. one set in a small town in the backwaters of the U.S. where an ordinary individual investigates or is hurled into a crime scenario. Many American independent films have been of this type in recent years and I guess this is one aspect which goes against Steel Country slightly, in that it is an overly familiar set-up. Nevertheless, it remains a good enough film with a very impressive central performance from Andrew Scott in the lead role of a bin man with an Asperger's type of condition, whose particular mind-set impels him to not accept a recent account of a young boy drowning. He suspects foul play and this leads him on a dangerous path with reveals dark secrets in the local town.
The film works more as a mystery than as a thriller; albeit, there are a couple of memorable scenes which fall under the latter bracket, including a surprising one near the finale. But mostly, this one focuses on an amateur sleuth seeking the truth and a town which seems reluctant to reveal all. Ultimately, this is a good, if relatively standard, bit of Americana (even if it is actually British!).
Excellent look at one of the best directors of the 70's
This film is a welcome tribute to one of the best directors of the New Hollywood era of film-making. Throughout the 70's Hal Ashby was arguably to most consistent American director from this bracket, delivering seven highly regarded movies which still resonate today. There is still a level of elusiveness about the man himself, with very little video footage of him. From this perspective, the film relies on some audio but mainly the contents of his letters, of which he seemed to produce a great deal. What emerges is a man constantly battling his studio bosses but also a committed believer in human rights, very much in tune with his times.
The films themselves are the real draw here however. From the race-relation themes of his debut The Landlord (1970), to his enduringly weird and beautiful cult classic Harald and Maude (1971), to his confrontational expletive-heavy military drama The Last Detail (1973), to the Warren Beatty vehicle Shampoo (1975), to his Woody Guthrie biopic Bound for Glory (1975), to his anti-war Vietnam romantic-drama Coming Home (1978), to his prophetic look at an idiot becoming President of the United States in Being There (1979). These are an extraordinary run of movies indeed. Like so many of his 70's peers, the 80's were a difficult time, however, and the four movies he subsequently made in that decade are not nearly so well received or remembered. The documentary benefits hugely from many clips from all his movies, so this is both are winner if you are already familiar with them, or if you are a newcomer seeking recommendations. This is overall, an excellent overview of a low-key man who made timeless cinema.
Science Fair (2018)
Funny, moving and inspiring documentary about seriously bright kids
This documentary focuses on a variety of students from different schools and countries as they try to qualify for the international science fair, which is akin to the Oscars for young science boffins. This isn't lightweight stuff, these youngsters are involved in proper high-level science projects from micro cameras that can tell if a burger is fully cooked to cancer prevention, by way of new improved aeroplane designs and artificial intelligence systems. When you watch this, don't be alarmed if these kids make you feel inferior. When I was 14 I wasn't developing systems to interpret brain waves, I think I was probably playing Jet Set Willy 2.
This film works so very well for me because I found myself cheering on every single one of these young people. They all come from slightly different backgrounds and have different elements which make them likeable and fascinating. From the youngsters from a very poor Brazilian small town, to the little fella who created a calculator that generated Shakespearean insults (e.g. 'thou art an unwashed puckart'), to the New York teacher who has created a conveyor belt of scientific excellence in her school, to the young lass who unashamedly declares that she is a gift to the world (she actually is, by the way). There is a large selection of great characters making this one both inspiring but also somewhat moving. It makes you realise that the world is - at least partially - going to be in good hands in the future.
Blood Fest (2018)
Entertainingly silly splatter meta movie
Blood Fest is a horror-comedy which can be filed under the meta movie bracket. It unashamedly wears its influences on its sleeves and it is an unpretentious celebration of the horror genre. The man behind it is writer/director/actor Owen Egerton who plays the circus ringleader here. The story is very simple. A horror-obsessed teenager goes along to a new horror-themed festival called Blood Fest with his two pals. When there, it becomes quickly apparent that the horror is real and the attendees become the prey of the killers who run the place.
The set-up of the movie is basically a neat way to allow for the inclusion of a variety of horror tropes and situations. To this end we have chainsaw killers, killer clowns, a hillbilly psycho, sexy vampires, marauding zombies and torture sadism; with nods to all manner of movies including The Wizard of Gore (1970), The Evil Dead (1981), Ring (1998), Saw (2004), etc. It is quite a lot of silly fun and pretty amusing quite a bit of the time too with some funny lines, i.e. 'your mother was killed by horror'. What it ultimately is, though, is a gore-fest with knowing nods to the genre and as such will make for somewhat entertaining viewing for horror fans.
Highly original and compelling thriller
This is a thriller which can certainly be accurately described as original. It takes a fairly typical suspense story about a recently widowed father whose daughter vanishes one night and presents it in a most unique way. The whole film plays out on the computer screen via programs such as Facetime, iMessage, Gmail, Tumblr, Facebook, etc. In this way, it reflects the reality that so many people now live, given that so many nowadays are literally never off their devices. In this way, the film is completely relevant and taps into a scenario most will be able to clearly identify with. The conceit is also terrific in that it accentuates the mystery element of the story, where we stumble upon clues via the various social media platforms. The very limitations of the set-up ultimately amplify the material and take it to another level. I found it to be one of the most original, gripping and compelling thrillers I have seen in quite a while. Lead actor John Cho must be credited too with giving a strong central performance as the grieving father, with some good additional work from Debra Messing as the detective assigned to the case. All-in-all, a fantastic bit of work.
Saving Brinton (2017)
A story about preserving history
This documentary centres on Michael Zahs, who is a historian and collector from Iowa who came into possession of some ancient films which once belonged to the cinema exhibitors Frank and Ina Brinton, who operated over one hundred years ago. These films became known as the Brinton Collection and they contained many old movies long believed to be lost, including work by the most important early film-maker, the one and only Georges Méliès. The documentary looks at both these films, Zahs himself and the Iowa community he is from.
I have seen a good number of silent movies from the earliest years of cinema and always marvel at the trick photography and invention which are a core feature. Méliès films in particular showcase visual invention by the bucketload. So, from the perspective of this alone, Saving Brinton is a very worthwhile film. Many of the recovered films are really rather beautiful, especially when presented in their original colour tinted glory. Any fan of cinema history should spend a little time checking these out to see how it all began. As a film itself, the documentary is admittedly a little bit lacking in focus, with no real sense of narrative urgency. There is no build up to a finale where we finally see the films themselves and I think a little more emphasis on the drama of the story would have served it well and improved it. Nevertheless, this still remains a very interesting little doc about a fascinating man and some glorious old, no longer lost, films.
Kelly Macdonald shines in this drama played in a minor key
This low-key drama has Kelly MacDonald as a timid housewife who goes through a form of self-discovery when she discovers she has a skill in completing jigsaw puzzles.
The main strength of this one is probably in the acting of MacDonald whose character is consistently a little bit strange, yet identifiable. The entire story is from her perspective so the drama does sort of hinge on her performance and it is very good. She is supported well by the others, with Irrfan Khan best as a fellow puzzle maker she hooks up with and develops feelings for. The film is essentially a family drama, with MacDonald as a taken-for-granted housewife who goes through the process of realising that her voice is never heard and building up the confidence to more fully be her own person. Unlike other films about people with unusual competitive skills such as Populaire (2012) (fast typing), there is next to no focus on the competitive nature of the puzzle building; so, there is sadly no montage sequence depicting MacDonald and Khan developing their puzzle-based friendship via a few set-backs, some jigsaw-based comedy antics and ultimately some top-level puzzle solving action. Its not that kind of a film. The puzzle aspect sits in the background and acts as a springboard for all the drama that surrounds it. A good film overall.
El ojo del huracán (1971)
Nice looking yet not overly exciting Spanish giallo
Despite being made in 1971, the big year for the classic-style violent murder-mystery gialli, this Spanish giallo is a throwback to the late 60's type which was less concerned with bloody mayhem and more with dangerous love triangles and deadly melodramas. Its story focuses on a woman who heads off to a seaside villa with her new lover who she has left her husband for; while there a series of dangerous incidents occur leading her to believe that someone is trying to kill her.
This one opens with a cracking credit sequence full of colour and beautiful drawings. It sure gets you in the mood for another slice of top quality giallo mayhem. Unfortunately, this one doesn't really live up to this promise and pans out as a fairly run-of-the-mill psychological thriller. It's not a bad film or anything, as it has some nice photography, a lush score from Piero Piccioni and benefits from its early 70's vibes. But its story just never engages as much as it needs to and it reveals its hand quite early on so for the last half of the film there isn't even a mystery to propel events. I think the story needed to be stronger as it is pretty minimalistic stuff in terms of characters. There are only really five of any consequence, including a couple of enigmatic individuals in the periphery - a male friend from 'the war' and a female seductress. In terms of suspense, we have a car hurtling down a mountain road with faulty brakes and an incident with a scuba tank with no air. Fairly slim pickings on this front in truth and there is no real violence to speak of either but there is admittedly a fair bit of sex and nudity thrown in to keep things more interesting. I think it may be other less plot-driven details which might be the most memorable though, such as any scenes involving the swan and all the underwater sequences. In summary, this is a nice looking yet slightly underwhelming example of a giallo, still well worth seeking out if you are an enthusiast of the genre though.
Labios rojos (1960)
Nice early Franco is a comic film-noir with some style to burn
Two female sleuths run a secret detective organisation called Red Lips Agency. They wind up going undercover as exotic dancers at a nightclub in order to solve a crime involving a stolen diamond.
This film is the second or third that the unbelievably prolific Spanish director Jesus Franco made. His debut came the year previously with the rather cute comedy We Are 18 (1959). One of the lead actresses from that film, Isana Medel, returns here as one of the Red Lips girls. Both these early Franco movies are considerably nicer and sweeter than the sorts of things he would come to be known for later in his career. They are also quite a bit better from a technical standpoint as well, with lots of locations, professional camera-work and actual editing (something which became something of a luxury item by the time the 70's came around for Franco). In truth, this is a pretty professional looking little movie from Jess and definitely shows what he was capable of given a bit more money. There is some nice visual style to be found here with the lighting and angled photography all showing the influence of film-noir. And while the basic crime storyline and characters also fall into that bracket, it has to be said that the tone veers wildly off in another direction, as this is an unashamedly silly comic film much of the time. If you were to imagine a film-noir being combined with a 'Carry On' movie, you wouldn't be too far off the mark. The 'Red Lips' idea was actually carried on in two further movies Franco directed, namely, Sadisterotica and Kiss Me Monster, both from 1969. For my money though, this first entry is the best of the bunch. The latter two don't have nearly as much charm or craft about them and while they are more well-known, this obscure first instalment is really the one which deserves to be more widely seen. It showcases another side to Franco and along with his lovely debut We Are 18, it's a fun light-hearted romp which is rather well made.
The Face of Fu Manchu (1965)
Another so-so effort from a not especially interesting series
The ultra-prolific Christopher Lee managed to find time in the 60's to appear in a series of films based around the Chinese master criminal Fu Manchu. I have seen all of them aside from The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967) and have to say that I have found them to be a disappointingly dull series of movies. In fact, the only one I actually enjoyed was the Jess Franco directed entry The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969), which seems to have the reputation as the worst but which I inexplicably found to be the best! This no doubt says more about me than anything but there you go. Anyway, The Face of Fu Manchu seems to have been the one which got the ball rolling and could therefore be considered the template entry of the 60's strand of these films. It opens in China where we witness Fu Manchu being executed. Needless to say he re-appears later on (was anyone really surprised about this) and captures a scientist and his daughter, he uses the latter to coerce the former into developing a deadly poisonous gas which he intends to use to nefarious effect in the UK. And somehow this will lead on to him ruling the world or something.
The production values here are not too bad for a low budget effort. The period detail sort of hides the cheapness to some extent even if it still sort of feels like it's really the 60's more than the 20's in this one. The main issue though is that it is all just a little too routine and by-the-numbers. Nothing surprising ever really happens and it does become increasingly tedious as it progresses. It's still one of the better 60's Fu Manchu movies though, although given the less than stellar competition I don't think this can be taken as a fully endorsed recommendation.
Theater of Blood (1973)
A masterclass in comedy and horror!
This may very well be the greatest horror-comedy of all time. Theatre of Blood is essentially a film which reworks the same basic ideas that the earlier 'Dr. Phibes' movies had played around with. In all of these films we had an insane, eccentric genius seemingly return from the grave to enact a series of highly elaborate murders based on historical sources on a group of individuals who had wronged him in his earlier life. These films also shared a colourful, stylish and campy nature, which was quite unusual for British horror films; while they also shared a large ensemble cast of quality British actors with the unique American horror legend Vincent Price at the helm in over-the-top splendour. The 'Phibes' films are certainly classics but with Theatre of Blood the level is upped even further. The central idea of the film is fantastic. A stage actor returns from a presumed watery grave to carry out a series of theatrical and over-the-top murders on a series of theatre critics who refused to reward him with the best actor of the year award at the annual critics award ceremony. Given he had been mocked for never acting in anything other than William Shakespeare productions, he kills them all in the style of the Bard's famous plays. It is a brilliant, relatively simple idea which is executed to perfection, with Price on top form - in fact he was never better.
It is unique among the vast majority of horror comedies in that both the horror and the humour work alongside each other perfectly without one compromising the other. It is a hard trick to pull off and it rarely works but in this one the comedy is genuinely hilarious and the horror not shy in being properly grotesque. It is a huge testament to the skills of Price in particular that this fine balancing act is navigated to perfection as he was an actor who uniquely understood the comedy in horror, and how to deliver it on screen. It has to also be said that the ensemble cast around him is really quite stellar, with a succession of quality British actors pitching up to be high calibre cannon fodder for the homicidal Price. We also have the great Diana Rigg appear as his embittered daughter, in a film which she still has extremely good memories and opinions of. I guess one of the problems with a film like this is that it feels like a bit of a shame that Price's character has to be defeated in the end, we sort of definitely want him to take out Ian Hendry as well to be perfectly honest! But really, the pacing and set-pieces in this one are truly of a fantastic standard. All of the murders an absolute riot with Price adorning all manner of ludicrous disguises on the way - a particular hilarious highlight being his afro sporting hairdresser Butch.
I may even have to go as far as to suggest that this may well be the greatest British horror film ever made. Its uniquely successful combination of horror, wit, style, imagination, high-calibre acting, camp costuming and Grand Guignol excess, makes it a particularly satisfying movie which is endlessly re-watchable. A true cult classic and one of the high points of the horror genre in general. And to think I used to always think the theatre was pointless and boring!
Fanny Hill (1964)
Very weak, atypical film from Russ Meyer
Fanny Hill proved to be something of a one-off for famed sexploitation director Russ Meyer. For one thing, it was a film he made in West Germany and it was also a period film based on a literary source. It was hardly, therefore, the kind of material that Meyer was used to tackling. As such, it is definitely one of the less personal films he ever made, where he truly seemed like no more than a director-for-hire. The story follows a young woman who falls on hard times but is welcomed in a house populated by women; which the wide eyed innocent doesn't recognise as a brothel.
Whenever Meyer veers too far out of his comfort zone it often ends in trouble and Fanny Hill is unfortunately no exception. It is a film which will be unlikely to satisfy many Meyer fans nor those who liked the novel I should imagine. It's neither erotic nor funny and also commits one of the worse cinematic sins in being over-long too. Definitely a film which Meyer completists should at least see but it is something of a slog to get through though, so be warned. The most interesting aspect of it for me was the appearance of Laetitia Roman in the lead role. I had hitherto only known her from her starring performance in Mario Bava's highly influential year-zero giallo The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963), which needless to say was a considerably better film than this one. But it was nice to see her in something else at the very least.
Straw Dogs (1971)
Brilliant and controversial in equal measure
Sam Peckinpah is now pretty well known for being one of the prominent directors who brought new levels of violence into mainstream cinema. The Wild Bunch (1969) with its slow-motion carnage delivered blood by the gallon and naturally caused quite a bit of controversy in the process. But, as contentious as that movie was, it was nothing alongside the consternation Straw Dogs was to cause. This movie was so controversial that it was banned in the UK until after the millennium. Even to this day, aspects of Straw Dogs still trouble and create a certain discomfort.
The story is about a draft dodging intellectual (Dustin Hoffman) who flees the United States in order to avoid the Vietnam War and relocates to a rural area in Cornwall in England with his young wife (Susan George), who grew up there. A gang of local men who slovenly work at renovating their home begin a slow campaign of terror which begins with harassment and gradually escalates to ever more horrific degrees. It is basically about a pacifist who eventually succumbs to primal violence in order to protect his home. The film definitely seemed to me to promote the transformation of the meek man as a good thing, which I guess was one aspect which caused consternation in some left-wing liberals.
But that was nothing as to the scene in which so much of the drama pivots around where George's character is raped by two men. The first being an ex-boyfriend who roughs her up then forces himself on her, while the second where one of his associates joins in and sodomises her. The scene is extremely disturbing just on account of the sexual assault but what made it (and still makes it) so very controversial was the way in which George's character seemed to ultimately respond positively to the first man's attack. While I do see how it does indicates some of the more complex aspects of male-female relations, I think it does dangerously imply that some women are up for this kind of treatment, and the second rape only worsens this to some degree as it is sometimes regarded as the 'real' rape, where quite honestly both men rape the poor woman and act in an equally vile manner. So, while the scene is undoubtedly powerful, I can't really argue with the idea that it does have some very problematic aspects to it.
Aside from all this though, this truly is an excellent psychological thriller. The gloomy Cornwall setting offers something unique and interesting as the backdrop, while the acting of both Hoffman and George is very good indeed. The pacing is very well done with things slowly building up to the siege at the farmhouse, which itself was tense and thrilling. Additionally, it ends in such a way as to make the viewer wonder what they would make of such a situation in real life, as the mentally backward man (David Warner) whom Hoffman protected actually killed the young girl who was never found during the course of the movie. Once such a discovery was subsequently made, given that no one witnessed the death, very few would think of it as accidental and would consider him a child killer. In reality people would probably have sympathy with the lynch mob and Hoffman would not been considered any hero. Not only this but Hoffman at no point ever knows that his wife was gang raped, leading to her quite understandable reticence about allowing Warner's character in the house in the first place; this leads to Hoffman bullying her somewhat. Its strange dynamics such as these that ensures this is a film where things are not resolved in a tidy manner.