Friday, 8 February 2013

Film Review - Adios, Sabata!

Gianfranco Parolini had already had one smash hit in the spaghetti western genre with If You Meet Sartana, Pray for Your Death in 1968, introducing Gianni Garko as the titular gunslinger. Two years later he made the Lee Van Cleef vehicle Sabata, with the American actor as a slightly more mysterious version of the Colonel Mortimer character that had effectively restarted his career in For A Few Dollars More.

Film Review - Royal Flash

Entertaining but a little less than the sum of its' parts. Richard Lester's 1970s output is to my mind very underrated, classic adventure fair, from the physical comedy and pure adventure of his Musketeer films through to the superb Juggernaut, before he was vilified by nerds for Superman II

Film Review - Very Bad Things

One of the last gasps of Christian Slater's major film career before assaulting his then-girlfriend made him toxic goods, this is one of his best performances and certainly towards the top end of the movies he's appeared in. Peter Berg's comedy is pitch black, of questionable taste and cruel to a degree that makes Lars von Trier look like a sentimental old duffer - i.e. it's a riot.

Film Review - Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me

I was a fan of David Lynch's Twin Peaks TV series before I knew much about his films but when I did get into the movies I was naturally eager to get to grips with this one, even if it was a prequel rather than a follow-up to the show's compound cliffhanger.

Film Review - The Hunter

Steve McQueen's final film is at least a bit of an improvement after the disappointing An Enemy of the People and Tom Horn. McQueen is a great fit as the Western hero born in the wrong era, giving a fine charismatic performance as Ralph Thorson (a real life modern bounty hunter, mainly bringing in bail jumpers) instead of just going through his action guy motions. 

Film Review - An Enemy of the People

Following the success of The Towering Inferno, Steve McQueen was technically the biggest actor in the world, wanting $6m for a role. Sadly, between his laziness (well, to be fair he was screwing Ali McGraw, which probably made time fly) and various bouts of bad luck he ended up not being in anything and, after four years of inactivity (which included turning down roles in Apocalypse Now and what would become Heaven's Gate), began to lose his standing.

Film Review - Aces High

An interesting study of aerial warfare in World War I from Jack Gold, who produced several superficially traditional genre movies with a lot lurking below the surface. The most striking thing about the anti-war Aces High is the repeated theme of the brittle young men forced into such a terrifying idea as aerial combat, barely a couple of decades into heavier-than-air flight becoming successful.

Film Review - The Scars of Dracula

The last of Hammer's period Dracula films before the ill-advised switch to the present day, Scars of Dracula makes some notable attempts to revitalise the series. Christopher Lee has his largest role to date and Dracula has a few 'new' abilities - the ability to scale walls like a spider being the best; this was in Bram Stoker's original novel but then largely ignored until suddenly appearing in two films in the same year - the other being Jesus Franco's straight adaptation of the book, also starring Lee in the title role.

Film Review - The Wages of Fear

One of the very greatest films ever made, a fantastic, nihilistic suspense thriller. Centering on four expat drifters stuck in a small oil town in the middle of the Mexican desert, all desperate to get home but unable to afford the air fare.

Film Review - The Whales of August

Lindsay Anderson had an unusual career - his filmography as a director is dominated by realist drama This Sporting Life and the acerbic Mick Travis trilogy but his career was more complicated, including a lot of theatre and a day job as a film critic of some repute. Come the eighties he was almost an establishment figure and took a few jobs for cash, notably a small acting role in Chariots of Fire and even directing a concert film for Wham.

The Whales of August was his last cinematic release (little-seen evangelism satire Glory! Glory! would follow for HBO two years later) and it's very much from the part of Anderson that loved cinema. A charming slow-paced piece about the later days of two sisters finding themselves finally growing closer as their lives wind down, the film is mainly interesting for the chance to see cinematic icons Bette Davis and Lillian Gish duel in their old age, ably backed by a similarly aged Ann Sothern, Victor Price and Harry Carey turning in fine performances in the twilight of their careers under the watchful eye of a professional cinephile. It's gentle but never syrupy and while it lacks the anger of much of Anderson's work it has a lovely glow to it.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Film Review - Inside

Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo made one of the biggest marks of the New Wave of French horror with this slick, sickly slasher. Alysson Paradis plays a pregnant, depressed widow seeing out the final hours of her labour when a sinister hooded Beatrice Dalle turns up on her patio, malice aforethought. 

What follows is a tremendous thriller. My wife was about five months pregnant when I watched this and that perhaps added to the threat (and made me incredibly glad I didn't watch it with her as well) but it's nevertheless one of the more effective home invasion slashers as Dalle's character (credited only as La Femme) turns Paradis' apartment into a killing zone, wiping out potential helpers with a little help from an elastic set of physical laws. Several of the set-pieces are astonishingly visceral and shocking, such as the moment when Sarah is terrorised into accidentally killing her own mother with a hair clip, while others - such as the arrival of a pair of policeman with a delinquent prisoner in tow - are unbearably tense.

The gore is amped right up and the kills are well-thought out while Dalle is plainly enjoying herself as the insane Femme, who eventually gets a motive even if you'd be happy enough without it. Paradis is also very good as she finds something to fight for even as the script never forgets she's nine months pregnant. A cult classic, but don't watch it if you've got one in the oven yourself.

Film Review - The Revenge of Frankenstein

The first of Hammer's long-running series of classic monster sequels and the first to be based on something of an original story after the success of The Curse of Frankenstein the year before. That film was a remake of Universal's 1931 Frankenstein but Revenge of... skips the idea of remaking that film's sequel, Bride of Frankenstein.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Film Review - The Face of Fu Manchu

After building a fortune producing radio dramas, including The Lives of Harry Lime with Orson Welles (The Third Man was massive in the UK) and a Sherlock Holmes series featuring John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson and Welles again, Harry Alan Towers moved into mid-budget cinema in the sixties and arguably his most famous work in this field was the Fu Manchu series of films starring Christopher Lee as Sax Rohmer's Oriental terror.

Film Review - The Blue Max

Based on Jack D. Hunter's tale of wartime spin and military corruption, The Blue Max is an odd beast mixing contemporary anti-war sentiment and cynicism with old-fashioned aerial thrills. The obsession with medals - in this case the titular German award - is an interesting foreshadowing of Sam Peckinpah's Cross of Iron, while on paper there's lots of potential to the had by the character and situation of Stachel, a self-interested climber who immediately meets his match in the exploitative political machinations of Count von Klugerman.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Film Review - The Quatermass Xperiment

In the current age of digital downloads and streaming, or even physical media like DVD and before that VHS it's basically impossible to imagine how TV worked in the fifties. Even if a show was recorded before or during broadcast the only time anyone would ever see it again would be if there was a repeat, which happened rarely - if you missed it, you missed it. If you loved it there was a fair chance you'd never see it again.