Thursday, 26 February 2015

Phase IV



Title: Phase IV
Director: Saul Bass
Released: 1974
Starring: Nigel Davenport, Michael Murphy, Lynne Frederick, Alan Gifford, Robert Henderson, Helen Horton

Plot: A cosmic event has the effect of mysteriously evolving ants which leads to them developing a hive mind. Now scientists James Lesko (Murphy) and Ernest Hubbs (Davenport) have set up a lab in the Arizona desert to study the ants who threaten to take over the local area.


 
Review: February might be “Women in Horror Month” but equally important is that it also sees my good friend and occasional podcast co-host Emily over at “The Deadly Doll’s House of Horror Nonsense” celebrating her 5th Annual shortening. A cross blogging event celebrating all that is vertically challenged, so what better excuse could I really need to revisit this film.

Originally I saw this film back was I was a kid as part of a double bill which also included the equally surreal “Fantastic Planet”. This of course was more down to TV scheduling than my parents being the kind of free thinkers who took their kids to surrealist film double features, even if it was my dad who being was responsible for taping the films in the first place. Since that original viewing there was unquestionably something which stuck with me about it, so I knew it was only a matter of time before I revisited it here on the blog.

The sole film to be directed by the acclaimed designer of countless film title sequences and posters, it remains a curiosity to say the least as director Bass teamed up with wildlife photographer Ken Middleham who previously handled the insect sequences for the documentary “The Hellstrom Chronicle” to produce a film which is probably unlike any of the other Wildlife gone rouge movies which came before or which certainly followed and certainly worlds apart from the other ant movies such as "Them!" and "Kingdom of the Ants".

Unlike so many of the Wildlife gone rouge movies this film plays things very smart from the start as it opens with some trippy visuals of the solar event listed as the first of the “Phases” as we soon see the ants coming together in a mini Ant United Nations to put aside whatever differences it is that ants have and start working together, forming huge columns in the desert and hunting the animals which would normally prey on them, as seen with a swarm of ants descending on a spider. All the ant sequences Middleham shot using real ants, making it only all the more remarkable some of the footage that he captures here as he gives the ants a personality let alone has them performing in some remarkable sequences which I’m still stumped as to how he pulled them off.

Setting up their dome shaped lab in the desert the two scientists have very different approaches to the work with Lesko trying to adapt his methods for communicating with whales in an attempt to establish a communication with the ant’s hive mind, using messages coded in mathematics, which generally translates to a lot of constant chattering noise from the ants, while Lesko spends his time looking at various screens of wavy lines or print outs of shapes which he takes to be the ants attempting to communicate. Hubbs meanwhile constantly feels himself being pressurised to deliver results from his superiors frequently leading him to take more direct action against the ant colony in an attempt to stir up more of a reaction, because we all know how well that tends to end up. Things for Hubbs also take an Ahab style turn after he gets bitted by one of the ants, causing his arm to grotesquely swell up while sending him into an ever more delusional and irrational state.

The ants meanwhile prove to be frequently resourceful bunch capable of adapting to any situation the scientists throw at them, even rapidly evolving to become immune to the pesterside sprayed around the lab. At the same time their superior numbers see them tackling anything they consider a threat in skin crawling swarms which could not be truer than when it comes to the demise of one of the characters here which proved to provide the same sense of ill-ease that it did when I first watched and most likely to be the one which sticks with you after the film ends even despite it being filled with so many beautifully shot sequences which really benefit from Bass’s visuals focused style.

While this might not be the most action packed of films, it does have a number of great set pieces such as the ants getting past petrol filled trenches via the use of a log raft or lining up their dead like a world war one field hospital following the collapse of their towers at the hands of Hubbs. At the same time the film is visually stunning despite the spare location which see’s Kenya standing in for the Arizona desert, though why Base choose to shoot here is unclear. The barren desert shots and space ace style dome lab really project a sense of isolation and claustrophobia especially when the ants start to build towers around the lab to increase the temprature or by infiltrating the lab and starting to sabotage the lab equipment. This tension is only added to by the rapidly crumbling mental state of Hubbs so that you truly get the feeling that your part of the situation. Ironically the titular phase IV would end up on the editing room floor leaving us with a rather open ending, rather than the more trippy and fantastical ending that was originally planned seeing the surviving characters being altered to form the next evolutionary step between humans and insects. Shots for this scene would appear in the trailer but even without this ending the film still ends pretty satisfactory if maybe slightly more sudden than you would like.

The film might be low on gore and action but this is still a highly watchable film and one which deserves its cult status, especially when other animals gone rogue movies leaned toward the more preposterous. Here Bass shows that with you can still keep things grounded in a sense of reality without the film being any less effective.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Adventures In Podcasting #2

Time for another round up of my latest adventures in podcasting, presented here now as one big ole boxset of movie talk goodness.

The "Mad, Bad and Downright Strange Showcase" is my podcast were I invite bloggers, film makers and fellow film junkies to help me work through the 1001 film introduction to cult and obscure cinema which is the "Mad, Bad and Downright Strange" list with each show seeing my guest picking one or two films from the list to discuss.

MBDS Showcase #4 - May / American Mary

Vern (Vern's Video Vortex) joins me in the studio to look at two ladies putting their surgical skills to very different uses.

First up we have Lucky McKee's directorial debut "May" which brings a unique spin to the classic "Frankenstein" mythos in which the titular May, sets out to make herself a friend using the body parts of those around her.

For the second half of this editions double feature we look at the Soska Sisters (The Twisted Twins) critically acclaimed follow up to their grindhouse esq debut "Dead Hooker In A Trunk" with "American Mary" as the sisters turn their attention to the world of underground surgery and body modification.

All this plus we discuss cosplay ideas, forming a blogger band and ten minute triangle solos!!



MBDS Showcase #5 - Le Samourai / Branded To Kill

Will (Exploding Helicopter) joins me to look at two very different yet highly influential Hitman movies.

Kicking things off is Jean-Pierre Melville's acclaimed "Le Samourai" which see Alain Delon giving a memorable performance as Jef a hitman who lives by his own samurai style code of honour and who after a hit goes wrong finds himself being pursued by both the cops and his former employers.

Next up is Seijun Suzuki's Yakuza drama "Branded To Kill" were Goro (Joe Shishido) the number three killer in Japan with a fetish for the smell of boiling Rice. However when he botches a hit he soon finds himself marked for death.

All this plus exploding helicopters, the importance of Quentin Tarantino, aswell our attempts to get your votes for the LAMBcast MOTM.



MBDS Showcase #6 - Kaiju Gaiden / Destroy All Monsters

David Hall, Producer and Director of the forthcoming documentary "Kaiju Gaiden" joins me for this latest episode to talk about his debut film recently funded through Kickstarter.  Aswell as discussing his film he also finds time to talk about his movie tastes aswell as sharing his thoughts on the the Godzilla classic "Destroy All Monsters".

All this plus the winner of the LAMBCAST MOTM revealed, feisty leading ladies and some serious Kaiju fanboy obsessing!!



MBDS Showcase #7 - Alt. Christmas Special

It's that time of year once again, were we can dig out all those movies which take shall we say a more warped view of the festive season.

Emily Intravia (Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense / The Feminine Critique) joins me once again to discuss the festive slashers "Christmas Evil" and "Silent Night, Deadly Night", while at the same time finding time to highlight some of her other festive favourites.



MBDS Showcase #8 - Ghost in the Shell / The Evil Dead

Brandon Tenold (Brandon's Cult Movie Reviews) makes his podcast debut on this episode to discuss two of his favourite films from the list.

First up is the Anime classic and highly influential "Ghost in the Shell" in which cyborg cop Major Kusanagi hunts with her team for an illusive hacker called the Puppet Master.

Also discussed is Sam Raimi infamous and controversial debut "The Evil Dead", in which a group of friends accidently unleash an ancient evil with memorably gory results. A film which not only created a Launchpad for his directing career, but also for b-movie legend Bruce Campbell as well, while we also look at its long lasting legacy.
 
All this plus Saturday morning cartoons, questionable cash in's, the video nasties scandal and much more!!

** Sorry about the sound issues at the start, which I hope won't affect people enjoyment too much **



MBDS Showcase #9 - Dead Hooker In A Trunk / Phantom of the Paradise

Kicking off the 2015, author (Wake Up, Maggie)and one half of the Feminine Critique podcast Christine Makepeace making her debut on the show.

First off we have the Soska Sisters* neo-grindhouse debut "Dead Hooker In A Trunk" which sees four friends life thrown into chaos and confusion upon discovering the titular dead hooker.

In the second half of the show we look at Brian De Palma's flamboyant rock opera "Phantom of the Paradise" were several classic horror stories including "Phantom of the Opera" and "Faust" are given a unique Rocky Horror style twist.

All this plus we discuss the state of genre cinema, Mumblegore and the appeal (or lack off) of teen dance movies and more!!

*Apologies to the Twisted Twins whose surname I also mispronounce.



MBDS Showcase #10 - The Brood / Magnolia

The "French Toast Sunday" invasion of the show continues with this episode as Jess joins me to discuss the David Cronenberg's early body shocker "The Brood" aswell as P.T. Anderson's three hour LA epic "Magnolia"

All this plus Hitchcock, psycho children, the career path of Jake Gyllenhaal and much more!!

* Apologies for the sound issues with this episode, which were the result of a recording screw up I didn't discover until I came to edit it.


MBDS Showcase #11 - Little Shop of Horrors / Legend

Todd Liebenow (Forgotten Films) joins me for this latest episode to disuss Frank Oz's all singing and dancing remake of the Roger Corman Classic "Little Shop of Horrors" aswell as Ridley Scott's dark fantasy "Legend" featuring not only an unrecognisable Tim Curry, but also an early leading role from Tom Cruise.

All this plus we pit two movie years against each other with 1984 Vs. 1999, Discuss the art of Puppetry, boyhood crushes and show some serious love for "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" plus so much more!!



MBDS Showcase #12 - I Spit On Your Grave / Pink Flamingos

February is "Women in Horror Month" so its perfect that I'm joined first this latest episode by BJ Colangelo (Day Of The Woman) to discuss two of the more controversial titles on the list.

**Warning: Do Not Listen If Of A Sensitive Nature**

First up we have the notorious Rape Revenge Horror and former video nasty "I Spit on Your Grave". We also look at John Waters's midnight movie favourite and Filth Opus "Pink Flamingos".

All this plus the Video Nasties scandal, the legacy of Divine, feminism within the horror genre and so much more!!


Make sure to regularly check my podcast page for new episodes, while any feedback would be great, especially if your interested in being part of future episodes let me know in the comments section below.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

I Spit On Your Grave



Title: I Spit On Your Grave
Director: Meir Zarchi
Released: 1978
Starring: Camille Keaton, Eron Tabor, Richard Pace, Anthony Nichols, Gunter Kleemann

Plot: Escaping to the countryside to finish her novel, writer Jennifer (Keaton) soon finds herself the attracting unwanted attention from a group of local men, which soon leads to her being raped and left for death. However Jennifer survives the attack and soon begins to plot her revenge on the men responsible.

 

Review: A film whose legacy more than precedes it, the films originally released under the title “Day of the Woman” aswell as being shown under the more colourful “I hate Your Guts” and “The Rape and Revenge of Jennifer Hill” with the film only receiving its current title when the film was re-released in 1980. The film would only increase in notoriety when it was banned in the UK as part of the DDP list of “Video Nasties”, the unintentional side effect of which being that it created a watchlist for genre fans even though the majority of  films named would have no doubt been forgotten over time instead received a boost in popularity. At the time of writing ten films on the list remain banned due to either being refused classification or because they are yet to be resubmitted by their relevant distributors. Sadly this would not be the fate for this film which despite still not being released uncut it remains banned in Ireland but here in the UK even after cuts this still remains a grotesque and disturbing piece of celluloid trash.

Reportedly based on the director helping along with his friends a girl who he found to have been raped and the subsequent mishandling of the case by the police when they attempted to report it, the film is one of his two directing credits with the other being the little seen “Don’t Mess with My Sister” while he has returned to produce the two remakes that this film somehow has spawned which I can assume is more to do with its legacy than anything to do with its actual content. The original however was shot for cheap on a budget of $650,000 meaning that the film is unquestionably grimy while devoid of any kind of soundtrack which seemingly was more due to Zarchi not being able to find any music which would suit the film. This does however have the effect of increasing the intensity of the film, something the equally notorious “Last House on the Left” lost thanks to the inappropriate inclusion of bluegrass music during its comedic “Chickens” scene. As a result the film is largely silent bar background noise which is strangely eerier and only adds to the nastiness of the rape and abuse scenes as you’re forced to hear everything providing no escape from what you’re being forced to witness.

When we first meet Jennifer she is just a nice city girl with aspirations of finishing her novel and even though she is amused by the antics of the backwoods locals, including two of her soon to be attackers which we see playing the classic knife game split the kipper she is not rude or judgemental about their ways. As such the reason for them choosing to attack her for reasons outside of her being an attractive woman on her own is unclear. As a result of any kind of explanation for the groups actions it results in the tone of the film being far sleazier than it would have been had we actually been given some kind of reasoning.

While the film does have its moments of excessive violence, it is the rape scenes which is the hardest thing to stomach which even members of the crew found the filming of tough with one crew member quitting during the second of the three rape scenes, while the make-up artist who herself has been the victim of a gang rape attack also quit the film as she found the shoot too much like reliving the traumatic events. The male cast members to show their support for Keaton also requested to be naked, especially when she spends a lot of the film naked which really isn’t as titillating as it sounds as this is anything but fun nudity here. Keaton meanwhile had no problem with the nudity aspects of the film and was actually more concerned with the scenes involving her walking barefoot through the woods.

The kills are all creative as Jennifer despatches the group in a number of sadistic but highly justified ways including a hanging and creative use of an outboard motor. The also features the much discussed castration which interestingly would be uncensored for the Australian release of the film as the Australian censors don’t see castration as sexual violence which would have seen the film banned under Australian censorship laws. While the kills are all justifiably brutal, the film by this point has left such a bad taste in your mouth with what it has forced you to watch already, that if your still watching it is more a test of endurance that it makes it hard to get overly excited about them.

 I can’t help but feel that had Zarchi restrained himself to a sole effectively shot instead rather than the exploitive and voyeuristic style which he chooses for the film, let alone the fact that he chooses to include three rape scenes, which if we are to believe IMDB clocks in around 25 minutes which really is beyond excessive. Again if these scene had been handled effectively and focused more on Jennifer plotting and carrying out her revenge this would have been a stronger film, rather than feeling like a questionable idea stretched out to excess.

On one hand the film makes for an interesting argument on censorship, as had the film not been banned as a video nasty would we still be talking about it now or would it now be just another lost exploitation movie? Equally would this film have lead to the current wave of torture porn horror films being released sooner? What remains true though it that this is truly a disturbing and haunting film in only all the worst ways. Approach with caution.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

R100



Title: R100
Director: Hioshi Matsumoto
Released: 2013
Starring: Nao Omori, Mao Daichi, Lindsay Hayward, Katagiri Hairi, Gin Maeda, Hitoshi Matsumoto, Suzuki Matsuo, Michie, Haruki Nishimoto, You

Plot: Takafumi Katayama (Omori) is a mild mannered bed salesman whose been rising his young son while his wife lies in a coma. Seeking a break from the norm joins a rather unusual bondage club.

 
 
Review: Considering this film is from the same director of “Big Man Japan” I guess I should have guessed sooner that this would be anything but a straightforward film as director Matsumoto here takes on Japanese censorship with the title based on the Japanese rating system meaning that no one under 100 should be able to watch this film supposedly. Matsumoto here manages to take things even further than my previous encounter with his work with his tale of a bondage club with a twist were members are tied into a year long contract and were at any given moment one of the clubs dominatrix’s will turn up and beat the hell out you. Oh did I mention that members can’t cancel early either.

A curious movie to say the least its one which wastes little time in cranking up the crazy, as we open to Katayama on a date with an attractive young woman who suddenly roundhouse kicks the tea out of his mouth, before following up this sudden surprise attack with a follow up attack which see her kicking him down a flight of stairs before ripping off her coat to reveal her leather dominatrix’s outfit. Katayama’s arousal by the situation highlighted by the first of the many (so many) aura ripples which accompany each of these increasingly bizarre encounters. Unquestionably this is a bondage club unlike any other from its carousel introduction through to its lovely ladies who appear one by one as the carousel turns around in a scene which is a visual pleasing as it is titillating.

The rules of the club however ensure that Katayama will not be enjoying these ladies in any traditional sense as he is forced to become completely submissive to these ladies who all come with their own specialities from the traditional bondage and S&M skills such as whips, riding crops or for some just the ability to beat the hell out of their client. However as the film continues these skills only become increasingly more random from “The Queen of Saliva” who can unleash gallons on spit through to the “The Queen of Voices” who can imitate any voice she chooses. A great (if slightly icky) scene seeing these two queens working together on a blindfolded and tied up Katayama as lead to believe that is being subjected to a barrage of sit from his work colleagues, friends and family.

True such scenes might seem like the film should be placed in the same category as the likes of “Tokyo Gore Police” and “The Meatball Machine” but these scenes are frequently played with such a comical edge rather than the exploitation style of the aforementioned films, while like Matsumoto’s previous film “Big Man Japan” this film instead exists within its own warped genre as it falls so frequently between a slapstick comedy and an experimental arthouse movie.  However unlike similar films such as “Rubber” or “Survival Style 5+” atleast Matsumoto appears to be acknowledging how little sense things frequently make as the film takes regular intervals from the main story to cut to a group of movie executives walking out of a screening of the movie and commenting on what they have just seen, similar to the onlookers in “Rubber” especially as things get increasingly more surreal (just wait till you meet the “Queen of Gobbling”) which is kind of reassuring to know that you’re not the only one confused as to what it is that you’re supposed to be watching.

As with “Big Man Japan” it is of course when you’re just about getting into the rhythm of the film that mixes things up further still with a sudden tone shift which see’s Katayama taking on the Amazon blonde CO of the club and her army of leather clad dominatrix’s. While the CO announces her arrival by screaming and diving into the clubs swimming pool over and over again. Honestly I’ve no idea what the point of this scene was but its certainly amusing as hell to watch.

One of the main issues with this film is down to repetition as let’s face it you can only watch a guy get the hell beaten out of him so many times before it gets a little tiresome even if it’s by a bunch of attractive leather clad ladies. While at the same time the generally quite nature of Katayama makes him hardly the most thrilling of leading men especially when he spends the film in a state of emotional neutrality. Elsewhere the other gripe I have is with the film stock which makes the film seem cheap and proved an unwanted distraction especially during the slower moments but so is the issue of films being shot on digital.

Once again this film proves that to see something special that you can rely on Japan to provide it and while this film is in no way perfect its sheer randomness makes carries it through, though it’s doubtful that you will pay it a second visit

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Fright Night



Title: Fright Night
Director: Tom Holland
Released: 1985
Starring: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Roddy McDowall, Stephen Geoffreys, Jonathan Stark, Dorothy Fielding, Art J. Evans

Plot: When Charlie (Ragsdale) discovers that his neighbour Jerry (Sarandon) is a vampire he dismayed to find that no one believes him, leading him to recruit Peter Vincent (McDowall), a former movie vampire hunter turned TV host to help him stop Jerry.


Review: Another film from my childhood whose memorable VHS cover I still remember scaring the hell out me back when I used to spend many a misspent hour looking on the shelves of the Video store, at the same time knowing that I would never have the guts to ever watch it. Even as the film in later years has gone on to become regarded as a cult classic, meaning that it has been a source of some dismay for some of my friends that for one reason or another it’s taken me until now to actually watch it.  Perhaps one of the main reasons (outside of the aforementioned minor childhood trauma the cover caused) is that it’s a vampire movie. One of the few horror sub-genres which hardly fills me with the most excitement, especially considering how like Zombies it has been so overworked, with vampires long being the inspiration for countless dire paranormal romance let alone the whole “Twilight” fiasco, so when you tell me it’s a vampire movie it really has to be something special to hold my attention.

The directorial debut of Director Tom Holland who would previous to this film has written the surprisingly good “Psycho 2” and would go onto follow this film with the equally cult “Child’s Play” and the underrated Stephen King adaptation “Thinner” and while he is a director whose better known for his films rather than being the one who directed them. A fact only further highlighted by the fact that I didn’t realise how many of his films I’d seen till I started doing the research for this review.

Charlie is your regular teenage kid who likes horror movies and making out with his girlfriend as highlighted by the opening were he manages to combine the two (something which never works out in real life). He then manages to achieves what I assume to be a horror movie first by blowing off his girlfriend Amy (Bearse) offering to finally sleep with him, as he’s too busy spying on his neighbour after he notices a coffin being moved into the house. It’s worth noting at this point Jerry is still be to proven to be a vampire, so essentially he’s blowing off his girlfriend because of an overactive imagination.

While there is little doubt over whether Jerry is a vampire or not, even though it would have been epic if he hadn’t turned out to be one. The fun is watching Charlie trying to convince those around him that he’s right, much less the fact that he bases all his knowledge on vampires from what he’s learned from the movies or even more questionable advice from his best friend Evil Ed (Geoffreys). This perhaps might go some way to explaining why he believes a movie vampire slayer would be the best person to assist him with dealing with Jerry. Peter Vincent is a great character and possibly the one character that goes on the biggest journey here as he starts off as a sceptic only to soon find himself having to battle his very real fears to step up and become the man he played in the movies. It has to be questioned though if all the vampire hunting paraphilia in his apartment was all props from his former movie career or if he actually has any real experience? The answer to this question alludes us even if some of his equipment such as his pistol does come with links to his films, making it only all the more confusing.  

A great mixture of comedy and horror runs through this film with Sarandon providing the right combination of charm and threat to make for a suitable villain here, more so when he plays things so close to his chest in terms of his plans. More so when he throws in a real twist by seducing Amy which while its hinted that its due to her resemblance to his former lover, I couldn’t help but think that this was another way to screw with Charlie, more so when he also turns Evil Ed into a vampire one of those rare examples of a good character turning evil and in turn even more awesome than he originally was!

While the film was released back in the 80’s making up an unholy trinity of vampire movies alongside “The Lost Boys” and “Near Dark”, like those films the old school effect still hold up even now, with Richard Edlund and his special effects team when the film was made coming in fresh from “Ghostbusters”. It’s also great that the vampire transformations are more monstrous similar to those seen in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” than the more traditional pointy teeth variant which still continue to plague the genre now, only without any of the charm of the horror legends which originally portrayed these characters to make these more simple vampires work. At the same time we do get some gooey death scenes and an equally astonishing reverse transformation to rival “An American Werewolf In London”.

While for the most part this is a fun ride, it does sag slightly in the third act was the focus shifts to Jerry and his attempts to corrupt Amy with the help of his vampire powers, though taking the focus away from Charlie means that the film loses momentum, but ultimately this is a minor complaint as the film is still a lot of fun with healthy dose of splatter to add to the thrills to ensure it holds its own against its contempories especially when it falls squarely between the worlds of “The Lost Boys” and “Near Dark” making it the perfect companion piece to either film, while being one of those rare vampire films which even the usual haters of the sub-genre like myself can enjoy.

Friday, 30 January 2015

The Master Touch



Title: The Master Touch
Director: Michele Lupo
Released: 1972
Starring: Kirk Douglas, Giuliano Gemma, Florinda Bolkan, Wolfgang Preiss, Reinhard Kolldehoff, Romano Puppo, Bruno Corazzri

Plot: Steve Wallace (Douglas) a master safe cracker has just been released from prison, but its not long before he is drawn back into old habits with the prospect of one final heist, which he plans to pull off with circus trapeze artist Marco (Gemma).

Review: Also known as “A Man To Respect” this film marks my first venture into the world of the Italian eurocrime which for one reason or another alluded me until now. Bizarrely it would be my boss of all people who gave me this film along with a bunch of other films from the genre with the recommendation of watching this one first. More so when it was one of the first films to kick of the genre. It would also form part of the classier period for these films before they descended into their ultra-violent later years. 
 
Opening with Wallace being escorted from prison by Detective Hoffman (Kolldehoff) he is barely out of the car before he is picked up by the goons of his former employer mob boss Miller (Preiss) who despite being responsible for landing Wallace in prison in the first place now has another bank that he wants him plan a heist for. While initially keen to refuse especially considering how the last heist he did for Miller went. But when faced with the prospect of trying to break the seemingly unbreakable security system “Big Ben” he finds himself unable to refuse.

At the same time Wallace is keen to go straight and make a new life for himself with his girlfriend Anna (Bolkan) who seems remarkably understanding that he’s embarking on another heist after having spent the last 18 month waiting for him to get out of prison from the last one. Truth be told Bolkan isn’t exactly the greatest actor and seems to specialise in looking sultry than anything too heavy acting wise only ever showing any real emotion at the end when the film builds up to the inevitable betrayal.

In many ways similar to the superior and much later “Oceans Eleven” remake only minus the other nine members. Still like Danny Ocean, Wallace is also a calm headed crook who works by his own honour code, which soon sees him taking Marco as an apprentice of sorts as he sets out to teach him the skills of his trade as we see through the various scenes of Wallace trying to teach him the finer points of safe cracking. It has to be noted though that compared to other heist movies it is a strangely small crew which consists solely of Wallace and Marco who despite initially being brought on it would seem for his circus training it ultimately makes zero difference when it comes to the actual heist and seems to have been included so that director Lupo could include a bunch of trapeze sequences in the lead up to one of several standout brawls we get here.

The action sequences here are really worth giving this film a watch if anything as Lupo shows that he knows how to craft a riveting action sequence as we get a series of brawls between Marco and Miller’s head goon (Puppo) which seem to stem from Marco beeping his car horn at him during their initial encounter. From here we get a brawl around and inside a car, aswell as the ultimate bar brawl which soon leads to a thrilling car chase as the two men engage on a destruction derby through the streets of Hamburg. This sequence in particular is the real stand out here, especially when its easily up there with the likes of “Bullet” and “The French Connection” while the fact that their cars are continually getting more and more banged up the longer the chase goes on with Lupo seemingly constantly trying to find ever more inventive directions in which to take the action.
 
My issue with this film apart from the surprisingly tension free heist is the sheer lack of character development, let alone any attempts to make us care for any of these characters. Not that many are particularly likable to begin with and Wallace is only not a complete failure as a lead thanks to the charm of Douglas, but when you have characters who are supposed to working together going off on their own paths with the minimal amount of interaction with each other, it only makes it the harder to really give much of a damn about the heist they are trying to pull off.
 
A flawed film but certainly enough to see to raise my curiosity to what else the eurocrime genre might have to offer, while the film on its own merits has enough to make for a fairly entertaining watch if only for the set pieces, while Douglas’ presence certainly brings a level of class to proceedings even if he’s pretty much slumming it here and seriously in need of a more developed role. At best I would say to give this a curiosity watch at best.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Diva



Title: Diva
Director: Jean-Jacques Beineix
Released: 1981
Starring: Frederic Andrei, Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez, Roland Bertin, Richard Bohringer, Gerard Darmon, Chantal Deruaz, Jacques Fabbri, Patrick Floersheim, Thuy An Luu, Dominique Pinon, Dominique Besnehard

Plot: Jules (Andrei) is a postman obsessed with the opera singer Cynthia Hawkins (Fernandez) who refuses to allow her performances to be recorded, something Jules has secretly done while attending one of her performances. It’s also a recording which soon sees Jules on the run from Taiwanese gangsters who wish to claim the tape. Things only get worse when another tape containing the incriminating testimony which would expose a high ranking police officer as a racket boss is dropped into his postbag which a pair of dirty cops will do anything to get back.



Review: One of the first French films to break away from the realist trend which had dominated the 1970s, the film forming a new movement known as “Cinema du Look” which favoured style over substance and spectacle over narrative. While Beineix might have been the first to pioneer this new style of film making he would soon be joined by the likes of Leos Carax and Luc Besson who is probably the best known example with his early films such as “Subway” and “Nikita”. Unquestionably because of this style of film making it's an immersive viewing experience with as Beineix manages to not give us one film but two all wrapped up in one package as he gives us what is essentially a very satisfying art film, only to then throw in a crime flick as a tasty bonus. It’s a balance act that somehow he manages to pull off without ever sacrificing the effectiveness of one half or without the whole thing becoming overly confusing even if it does close in places especially when during the more artsy sequences.

The character of Jules while something of an oddball seeing how he’s the kind of guy who brings professional recording equipment to Hawkins concert, while only adding to already established obsession with the singer by stealing her dress after somehow managing to get backstage. He does eventually return the dress to Hawkins who despite initially being initially angry with him soon embarks on a romance of sorts with Jules. This of course being instead of the more logical choice which would have been to unleash a can of mace on him. No doubt this would have been the more realistic outcome of this situation, not that Beineix ever seems to be aiming for anything close to realism here of course.

Once he finds himself on the run from the various parties looking for the claim either of the two recordings in his possession and a situation which leads him to seek shelter with the bohemian artist Serge (Bohringer) and his cute French-Vietnamese muse Alba (Luu). This pair also have their own quirks with Serge spending most of his time either smoking in the bath of putting together huge jigsaw puzzles and generally not doing anything remotely artistic, all while his muse rollerskates around their open plan apartment. These kinds of scenes frequently appear over the course of the film, bringing with them little in terms of plot fulfilment yet their visual arresting nature makes them hard to besmirch.

Unquestionably the art direction of the film is superb with Beineix having an eye for detail, from the open plan apartments of Jules and Serge which resemble art installations more than actual homes. At the same time the smaller details such as the huge headphones the characters use, or Serge cutting onions while wearing a snorkel only heighten the experience, more so when Beineix never chooses to explain any of these moments nor draw attention to them by having characters comment on them.

The thriller aspects of the film revolving around the more incriminating of the two tapes are played fairly tight throughout with Beineix even managing to work in a fun chase sequence which sees Jules trying to escape the corrupt cops on his moped on a chase which not only takes him through the subway system of Paris, but onto a subway train as well. The whole scene seemingly being designed to constantly find ever more inventive places to take the chase as Jules rides down steps and through busy platforms while never once stepping of the bike.

Were the film does slip up slightly is with warehouse finale which despite having some tense moments, does become unintentionally comedic when bad guys are essentially being dispatched by turning the lights off and having them stumble into an elevator shaft. However when you consider some of the things that you have been willing to accept up to this point, it hardly seems like much of a stretch to accept this aswell.

True this film might not be for everyone but at the same time it’s not so out there that it’s inaccessible to those outside of the art house crowd as while its certainly surreal in places it’s never to the point where you’re unsure what exactly is supposed to be happening. Its colourful characters including Dominique Pinon as a dirty cop, who hates seemingly everything ensuring that, the film is anything but boring. At the same time for those who enjoyed the likes of Sofia Coppola “Lost In Translation” or more recently Spike Jonze “Her” which seemingly were modelled on the ideals of the “Cinema du Look” making this a more than fitting companion piece aswell as a fitting entry point into this fascinating era of French cinema.
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