Monday 30 April 2018

3 - Kong

King Kong (1976) - Yes, I like this movie. It's well-directed. It actually engages in a way the Toho movies do not. Everyone is energetic and has guts in their performance. Even Jessica Lange isn't bad. Yes, I know she got acting lessons afterwards which helped to make her the universally beloved actress she is today, but she's likeable. She's better than the average doe-eyed ingenue you expect from such a role. Grodin and Rene Auberjonois ham it up, but it's Lorenzo Semple writing, so it's good solid camp. And it's daft, not stupid, which the Toho films frequently are. People give out about it because it's not the 1933 original, but it couldn't be. Yes, it's not stop motion, but Rick Baker gives probably the best kaiju suit performance. He's not a stuntman going mad like the Toho films do. It's a real movie not the sub-Gerry Anderson/Eurospy/Irwin Allen teleseries nonsense of King Kong Escapes, with soulless dubbed overcooked performances and only the odd piece of impressive modelwork to lift it.  Then again, King Kong Escapes is based on a Rankin/Bass TV show. Unlike most of the Toho films, with De Laurentiis, there's no half-assing. Some of it is hard to follow, as a lot was cut (the wrong bits - some of it is quite stretched especially on the voyage home and it could easily be ninety minutes), but it's entertaining. I think it's because you had people who actually tried, with the Toho films, you get the impression it was a TV series essentially, churning out endless identikit films.  And it mentions Rudolf  Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn. And the idea that the Kong travelling show is presented as basically what the film was presented as (read the Creation of King Kong - it shows the effort they put into this thing) - this huge epic spectacle - a giant ape in a giant petrol pump. The climax is a bit long, and Kong swimming is ludicrous, but John Barry's score makes you believe in it.
It's better than Orca (1977  - RIP Michael Anderson) anyway, which needed Semple. Orca is played too seriously. It's played as a drama and not an adventure.
King Kong Lives (1986) on the other hand is cheaply made gash. The suits are ugly (future Glam Metal Detective/TV Burp/Comic Strip Presents semi-regular George Yiasoumi as Lady Kong), the plot uneventful  and the scenery unexciting. It's like a worse version of Baby - Secret of the Lost Legend.

12 - Tati, Jabberwocky, Canadian cinema, In-Laws, Def-Con 4, Red Tent, Seven, Blackout, Blob, Marty Feldman

Jabberwocky (1977) - A good cast including Palin as lead and a great monster - but it's too shambolic, too silly, too Pythonesque. If played a little more straight - it might have been great. Deborah Fallender is a bit Connie Booth-esque. Gilliam I have a love-hate relationship. Harry H Corbett's bit is fun, but it's very bitty.

Playtime (1967) - I don't get Tati. It's all very mannered, and though I appreciate the effort, the city sets look identical to the airport.

Ticket To Heaven (1981) - Canadian drama, the cult is annoying (feels more like a bland Christian summer camp than anything), the opening is nicely shot, but Nick Mancuso is an unappealing lead. It's a little preachy, ironic as that is what stands against.

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978) - An outstretched idea that would have played better as a sketch. It does have a gleeful charm that the slicker 80s sequels do not. The Stuff does it better.

Def-Con 4 (1985) - Quite dull post-apocalyptic adventure. Not even Maury Chaykin saves it. The savages all have perms and taches that make them look like Scousers.

Threshold (1981) - Bland Canadian thriller with Donald Sutherland.Like a lot of films from that era made in Canada, e.g. Ticket to Heaven, bleached in a soft-focus glare.

The In-Laws (1978) - It doesn't know what it is - if it's an adventure comedy or a New York comedy of manners with a diversion to Mexico. Plus Arkin doing his "crazy man" grates. It doesn't feel like a thriller with jokes. The theme suggests a Pink Panther knockoff, but it's not frenetic enough.

The Red Tent (1969) - A visually impressive but rather staid and overlong Soviet epic about Amundsen and the crash of the Italia airship that has the peculiar novelty of being the first coproduction with the West, thus Peter Finch, Sean Connery in bad age makeup and the likes of Claudia Cardinale, Hardy Kruger and Mario Adorf are thrusted into this otherwise Mosfilm epic. It feels very strange - halfway betweena Soviet epic and an Italian adventure like Fraulein Doktor. A clash of two filmic styles that doesn't work. Unmemorable Morricone score. But the alternate Soviet soundtrack is better, even though it itself apes Morricone.

Seven (1979) - Andy Sidaris "action comedy", not much action, not much comedy, a lot of stuff that tries to be either. It just feels sleazy.

Blackout (1978) - Padded out Canadian-French nonsense. A few minutes of NYC footage, then some badly staged action and a dog picking out cards from a bucket. Ray Milland plays a grumpy old tyrant. Jim Mitchum tries to be a hero, while Robert Carradine overacts. It's full of dull melodrama. It's also badly shot. The music sounds a bit like the theme to Wogan.

Every Home Should Have One (1970) - Starring Marty Feldman and written by some of those people (Feldman, plus Barry Took and Denis Norden) - the animation by Richard Williams is lovely. It's very odd - basically a series of fake ads with a storyline. It's almost a proto-Kentucky Fried Movie. And devolves into sex jokes. Not especially funny. But the ending is very odd - as it seems to echo the ending that John Sullivan wanted for the last Only Fools And Horses, i.e. the family turn into cartoons as they walk off into the sunset. Has a Nazi Penelope Keith.

Beware! The Blob (1972) - Larry Hagman-directed comedy sequel. Features a jaunty electronic title sequence accompanied by a bat while screaming plays. With the likes of Godfrey Cambridge and Dick Van Patten hamming it up as a henpecked husband and a scoutmaster respectively, it feels like a bad ensemble comedy with added nonsense like Gerrit Graham in an ape suit, plus a Christian hippie folk singer and a streaker. It's almost sub-Disney comedy. Though the speechification at the end may not be a parody.  Like the above, features Shelley Berman.

Not a fan of disco movies - the music's good, but there's often too much garish tack, not enough ideas or humour, or soul.

Wednesday 25 April 2018

10 (11 inc. refs, 13 inc. Diabolik/Sphinx) + 2 telly - Dressed to Kill, Le Carre, Adamson, Bava, VIPs

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1965 - B/W) - Not my sort of film, beautifully shot, but a bit too dry. But interesting for me, mostly filmed in Ireland. Bernard Lee's corner shop clearly was a set in Ardmore, as it is full of Irish foodstuffs - USA Biscuits and Chef Sauce!
Rewatched Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979) - incredible cast - but it's very samey - six hours of briefing.  I prefer Smiley's People, which at least has a car chase by Remy Julienne.

Tried watching Dressed To Kill (1980) again. The  soundtrack is nice. But like most of De Palma's films, it is a Brian Clemens Thriller-type hoary old plot (with some nasty transphobic touches - although Keith Gordon's Adric-esque teen genius' joke about transforming himself is apt considering he looks like a tweedy middle-aged lesbian) with some incomprehensible giallo-esque twists and a lot of vaseline slapped on the lens to try to make Michael Caine in drag look vaguely attractive so we don't actually assume it is old Mo.

I've also been working for doing reviews of The Freshman and Hear My Song and some articles.Check em out.

Curse of King Tut's Tomb (1980) - A quite fun version of the story. A US TV movie coproduced by HTV, with added cute kid, and a sinister villain played by a browned-up Raymond Burr with no attempt at an accent, aided by Tom Baker (in brownface) and an Italian-accented Barbara Murray. The sort of fun larks horror stopped being in the 80s. Eva Marie Saint plays an American add-on, a journalist named Sarah Morrissey (not the mid-2000s Irish model) who seems to have been intended for a younger actress, knowing how the romantic subplot plays out. Better than The Awakening or Sphinx (1980). Angharad Rees is too old for Evelyn, but obviously she and Robin Ellis have chemistry from their eyes on Poldark. Pat Routledge appears at her Broadway height as a German crazy woman who calls Carter Cartman. It peters out an hour in, perhaps have been better at 75 minutes. Then, it goes a bit mental. "Why did you disturb me? My life was so peaceful and so beautiful." Burr's outfits get more ridiculous. By the end, he looks like some sort of elderly Pakistani woman.  Narration by Paul Scofield tries to convince us that fictional characters existed.

Dracula vs Frankenstein (1971) - I know it was shot on film but it looks almost like videotape. It feels like a taping of a dinner theatre show. A wheelchair-bound J. Carrol Naish and a sozzled Lon Chaney Jr. seem to performing in some carnival roadshow, Robert Powell-lookalike Zander Vorkov is less Dracula and more a headwaiter, Russ Tamblyn pops up in unused stock footage from a different film, also by Al Adamson.

Blazing Stewardesses (1975) - Another Adamson production, begins with a dedication a la Night Train To Murder. It thinks it's a film, possibly something akin to Won Ton Ton (both feature the Ritz brothers), but it isn't. Like most Adamson works, it feels like a bad stage show. Adamson might have been better as a variety TV producer.  Even Lost (1983), his Benjisploitation where it feels for once that Adamson is actually trying to make a film, and not a cinematic dinner theatre show. But there's still a threadbare amateurishness, and it looks almost to be shot on video.

Dynamite Brothers (1974) may be Adamson's best film, but it's still not good. In certain sequences, it does appear to be a generic kung fu actioner, but then it goes off point into something that again is barely a film. Even James Hong is bad in it.  Adamson was a great booker, a great persuader, and had vision, but lacked skill and cinematic language. He'd have been better off in Branson. The difference between an exploitation filmmaker and a producer of light entertainment is actually more to do with the medium. Both stem from carnival hyperbole. Some have crossed both waters (Ibanez Serrador, for one).

The Wonders of Aladdin (1961) - Donald O'Connor vehicle, a bad Italian-American vehicle with Vittorio De Sica, but directed by Henry Levin and a ghosting Mario Bava. Like most Bava films, it's rubbish, but it's nice looking rubbish, it's colourful, a sort of Beano comic backup feel. Bava's a great visualist, but apart from Diabolik (1968), which plotwise kind of works and is carried by the sheer brio (other Italian knockoffs like Argoman, Goldface, Superargo and the Three Fantastic Supermen look fun, but are mostly a chore because they descend into that very European brand of slapstick silliness because they try to be overblown cake-like capers, and yet don't have the money).  Italian exploitation is worth it for the soundtracks.
Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966) - Vincent Price is good in it, Bava's direction is breezy (more imaginative than the sub-Disney shopping cart comedy of Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine) but Franco and Ciccio are dire. Again, Euro-comedy doesn't translate.

The VIPS (1963) - That Taylor Woman-Burton nonsense, feels like it should be a comedy (i.e. Rod Taylor and Margaret Rutherford's characters) rather than a shy bonkbuster. Captures the drudgery of a waiting room.

The Wise Guys (1965) - Utterly baffling rural-set Bourvil-Lino Ventura comedy, feels more like a tragic drama. Way too overlong.

Thursday 19 April 2018

Cartoon telly euro-visions - extended

Image result for mr rossi

Watched the Mr. Rossi features - insane, and gleefully unique. Mr. Rossi Looks For Happiness (1976) is the one with mad old people. With a dog-like anthropomorphised broom, yodelling, racist natives with bones in nose, spoofs of Snow White and Pinocchio, a singing tree trunk with duck backing singers coming out through, rocket houses, a Nautilius caravan called the Bickermobile that splits and is bulletproof.  A sun that looks like Ralph Wiggum. Non sequiturs cutting to ants.  Mr. Rossi's Vacation (1978) descends to funny animals in a panto version of AnimalFarm, then adds a fishing trip with the bait being a worm in snorkel, lots of "they always do that in the movies" fourth wall breaking, a  ghost ship/castle at sea.  Rossi and Gastone a proto-Wallace and Gromit.    Dreams of Mr. Rossi (1977), the least of the features is all magic carpets and Merlin-types. Inconsistencies - people think a talking dog is weird unlike the other films where it is a normal occurrence.

Agaton Sax - 70s cartoon, like a cartoon Edgar Wallace, animation style takes some getting used to, for those familiar with Quentin Blake.  Off-puttingly Scandinavian. CartoonLondon even looks like Stockholm.

Ishu Patel's NFB work, even the Punjabi Noggin of How Death Came To Earth (1971) feel like overlong title sequences for ethnic programming.

14 ish - Eastern European stuff exc. attempts

The Snow Queen (1967)  - Attractive Lenfilm musical, with talking  birds, land pirates, cartoon interludes, and a principal boy. Very visually interesting - 2-d cartoon snow monsters instead of the expected stop-motion. Shown by the BBC in 1970 in the usual Tales from Europe slot (narrated by Gary Watson, aka Arthur Terrell, one of the more useless Doctor Who baddies), and released in the US by Paramount.

The Very Same Munchausen (1975) - Mosfilm miniseries about the Baron, shows that Soviet fantasy was at its height in the 60s. By the 70s, it feels somewhat less insane, somewhat ordinary.

Operation Y and Shurik's Other Adventures (1965)/Kidnapping, Caucasian Style (1967)- A Mosfilm series of Soviet comedies, bright, attractively shot, inventive, brash but again they lose something in translation. The gurning and laboured slapstick becomes tired.

The Diamond Arm (1968) - From the director of the Shurik comedies, Leonid Gadai, apparently beloved in Russia, a sunny but not very engrossing heist comedy.

Private Detective or Operation Cooperation (1992) - Very odd comedy, dreamy, but the early 90s crumbling Soviet Union fascinates, gradually more open Western influences. Also by Gadai. Visually interesting, but as usual with Russian comedy, not much to laugh at that's intentional. Here, the hero looks alarmingly like a young Alexander Boris De Pfeffel Johnson.

 There's Good Weather in Deribasovskaya, It's Raining Again in Brighton Beach (1992) - Gadai film, set in the US, like a cross between The Master of Disguise and Les Patterson Saves The World, features a spoof of President Bush, and has footage shot at the Trump Taj Mahal, even thanking the grate man himself in the credits.

Teddy Bear (1980) - TVP Poland-associated film, a comedy involving wicker-like teddy bears, end is set in London with Polish-accented Englishmen.Jolly, but nothing more than a curio outside its own language.

The Seventh Bullet (1972) - An average spaghetti western - except it's Uzbek, by Uzbekfilm/Tajikfilm, and written by Andrei Konchalovsky.

Solaris (1972) - Visually rewarding but too long, and therefore an easy route up its own rectum.

Jan Nemec's Party on the Guests (1968) I found Pythonesque bollocks, while its director, Barrandov blacklisted Jan Nemec's other film Diamonds of the Night I found better, but still rather boring. Like an hour and ninety minutes of the B/W "secret footage" Tim recovered of Hitler in The Tomorrow People. I prefer much of the mainstream Czech cinema of the period to the New Wave (i.e. something great like Tomorrow I Shall Wake Up And Scald Myself With Tea).

Tried watching Walerian Borowczyk's films, and I find them some interesting stuff overshadowed by lots of erotic bollocks (including actual bollocks). Not quite my thing.

Season of Monsters (1987) - Miklos Jancso's Hungarian Robert Altman-alike, set amongst a town with a Nessie-like creature. Doesn't ever feel like it leads to anything. Lots of anger in a field, as a helicopter flies by. Turns into something resembling an Eastern European amdram version of the Bed-Sitting Room. The final shots are nice.
Jancso's films are weird. Some of it looks like a  spoof of Eastern European cinema, while his 1976 Italian coproduction Private Lives, Private Pleasures is a Playboy TV pick that echoes the work of smutmeisters like Tinto Brass, down to Teresa Ann Savoy in the cast. I seem to gravitate towards the more commercial side of Eastern European cinema, which is weird, but it doesn't aim for weird, and that's the best kind of weird - weird cinema that thinks it is normal. Watched a few of these. And my point seems to be proven. The Escape from the Liberty Cinema looked like an ep of Boon. Again, I seem to go for the commercial-weird. The Saragossa Manuscript a bit too Gilliamesque for my liking.

Sweet Movie (1974) - Features a vagina POV shot, a very cheesy, disturbing gameshow (what the show in Game of Danger could have been, but wasn't thankfully) and despite all the visual joy, e.g. the milk bottle, it's just too sleazy. If the Kroftt brothers made porn. Not even John Vernon and George Melly make it worthwhile. Lots of smacking and oiling. A very sticky movie.

I Even Met Happy Gypsies (1967) - A staid but rather truthful look at modern Romanis in Yugoslavia. Launched the career of Bekim Fehmiu, star of Harold Robbins' The Adventurers. Has a  pipe-smoking aul wan.

Tuesday 17 April 2018

17-ish. Some of these films were so bad I didn't quite finish it - Taviani, Black Lizard, Assignment to Kill, Black Lizard, Fuller, Death Valley, Bartel, Liquid Sky, Because of the Cats, Siege of Firebase Gloria

Black Lizard (1968) -  Kinji Fukusaku's strange drag queen criminal mastermind caper. For most of it, it's badly lit.  A sort of distaff Japanese Diabolik (played by famed drag queen Akihiro Miwa), and tonally all over the place.

Watched the Taviani Brothers' Kaos (1984), in tribute to Vittorio Taviani's recent passing. They're nice films, beautifully done, but they could almost be the other lives of people in wine/olive oil ads (many of which I believe stole from these kinds of films). Not quite my thing, maybe because I was exposed to too many such ads as a youth.
I call it the "Cinema Paradiso" Paradox.

Harry and Walter Go To New York (1976) - Gould, Caan, Caine, Keaton and Durning in very 70s, very glossy but empty caper. See also the Fortune (1975). Couldn't finish it.

Assignment to Kill (1968) - Eurospy-ish thriller with Patrick O'Neal in Switzerland, very TV movie-level, sort of ITC-ish, reminiscent of early US TV movies like Istanbul Express or the Scorpio Letters or the Spy Killer or the theatrically released but similarly dull Feature Film Corp films like the Bamboo Saucer (1968) or Panic in the City. Joan Hackett an interesting choice as female lead, Gielgud and Herbert Lom make appearances. O'Neal not a good fit as hero.

Les Sedecteurs (1980) - Odd, otherwise nothingy Europudding anthology with Ugo Tognazzi, Gene Wilder (directing alongside Bryan Forbes, Dino Risi and Edouard Molinaro),  with video-burned credits and a rollerskating Wilder. The  Roger Moore/Forbes segment is set in a middle-class dream of Concorde, private castles, American heiresses and Tate and Lyle, To quote Simon Underwood, Do you think anyone ever told Bryan Forbes he was a massively heavy-handed, not particularly good filmmaker? Like the Naked Face (also by Forbes), one of Moore's more forgettable films. A lot of these nothingy pan-national romcoms were about at the time etc.

Shock Corridor (1962 - B/W)- It's well-made, but Fuller's stuff doesn't really get me, apart from White Dog (1982). It's a sort of Southern noir, and that doesn't do me. And why is there random colour footage of mondo-style tribal footage? Some of the performances are hammy, but it feels like an episode of the Twilight Zone.

Verboten (1959 - B/W)- Like Fuller directing an episode of Combat, or some other 60s war show. Tries to be realistic, despite the backlot sets. Unmemorable.

Querelle (1982) - I admire the effort, it's a leather-bar melodrama shot like a 1950s musical. Lots of attractive sailors and strange artificial sets, buildings on coastlines that look like boats against boats.  I like the look but not the film.

Death Valley (1982) - Begins like a Cassavettes drama set in New York, then becomes a sub-Duel film. Wilford Brimley is sheriff. Little Peter Billingsley wears a cowboy hat. It's very TV movie, but then it was a mid-budget Universal release.

Cannonball (1976) - Very strange. I like Death Race 2000 in a sort of 70s Doctor Who way, and I like Private Parts, but Paul Bartel I usually prefer as an actor.  This is no exception. And racing/chase films like this don't tend to work.

Forbidden Zone (1982 - B/W) - WTF? Whatever it is, it isn't enjoyable.

Liquid Sky (1982)- Like Forbidden Zone, garishly ugly arty bollocks. Couldn't finish it.

The Siege of Firebase Gloria (1989) - Though well directed by Brian Trenchard Smith, very rote Vietnam War fare beloved by dads.

Because of the Cats (1973) - Picturesque Dutch locations, an interesting but rather irritating Dutch giallo with Byran Marshall as Van Der Valk, a group of posho youths (including Mollie Sugden's boy Christopher Blake) wreaking havoc. Glam rock soundtrack by Hans van Hemert, the Dutch Shay Healy. Includes Sylvia Kristel and George Baker and Edward Judd!

Sunday 15 April 2018

29 - Hands of the Ripper, Nightcomers, Dorian Gray, Scorpio, New York crime films, Klondike Fever, Golden Needles, Parker, Jordan, Highway to Hell, Prizzi, Hoffa, Oliver Stone, Reds, Ragtime, De Palma, Cannery Row, Coen, Freshman, oh my

Watching the Picture of Dorian Gray (1945 - B/W). Donna Reed doesn't bother with the accent. Weird to see people doing the Diddy Dick and Dom/Reeves and Mortimer Marvin and Otis heads on puppet bodies thing. As it goes into the present, it feels more American. Angela Lansbury (with a relatively undiluted accent) and George Sanders give it all they got, while Hurd Hatfield is convincingly British (then again, he was a bit of a West Brit).

The Nightcomers (1972) - Weird Winner touches (e.g. the kids acting younger despite being played by an early and a late teenager respectively), it looks very expensive, like a typical period drama so the kink is out of place. Brando channels his inner Richard Harris, and proves very capable in his performance as the typical Irish village idiot. The kite bit is very Children's Film Foundaation. What could have been a period plodder is well served by Winner's sensationalism. It feels like a dirty version of the Amazing Mr. Blunden, with Stephanie Beacham having sweet love with Marlon.  Seeing Brando pelted with arrows in an English bog is something. Is it a good film? It's well shot, and has a nice score, but it makes no sense. It's a bad idea, but it's so absurd, it entertains. And Thora Hird's in it.

Rewatching Hands of the Ripper (1971). It's weird. It's played almost too seriously for such a schlocky idea, but no, they do it as a tragic romance. The soft-focus and the stolen sets from Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Lynda Baron belongs in a different version of the same film. The ending is great, though. Still better than Demons of the Mind, and the vampire lesbian films of the era. However, it is almost a perfect translation of 1970s girls' comics in Britain, which were either about cursed young girls or Victorian waifs going through endless tragedy.

Scorpio (-1973) - Better than I remembered. A slog at times, but the action is great. Almost a glimpse into what a Bond directed by Winner would have been like. The usual slack thriller tropes somehow feel energised with Winner.  One of the better Eurospy ventures. Realised that Winner perhaps should have directed Capricorn One. That film is too Altmanesque for my liking. Firepower (1979) doesn't hit anywhere, and I feel with Capricorn, an Englishman's eye on the Americana pomp may have helped.
Winner does get his sense of place, which is why I prefer Death Wish to the French Connection, Pelham 123, etc. Even if it has supposedly live TV footage shot on 35 mm film, and not videotape. But it has a small person manning a giant newsagent booth.

The Seven-Ups (1973) - The thing with 70s cop movies. I don't find the characters or plot interesting. But I like the locations. I like 70s New York in passing, because when there are films set within it, where it's centre stage, where people work, when it is in close-up, it loses its mystique, and it feels false. In car chases, e..g. in the French Connection, you see that New York, with real people, not staged extras. Though a lot of this footage gets samey, this is no exception. But I never feel for the characters. I wish that Alligator  had at least shot in Chicago rather than faking it in L.A., because it would have added character to the generic cop stuff.

Three The Hard Way (1976) - Jay Robinson's villain is wasted in this blaxploitation plodder. Yes, his plan is bigger than most blaxploitation - but instead of just killing all the blacks with a rare poison only African people are allergic to (which makes no sense  - what about light-skinned mixed race people), he should have turned them into literal brown sugar or something with a death ray.  The action is by Hal Needham, though, but it's TV movie-level lethargic.

Klondike Fever (1980) - Only an anachronistic studded cowboy hat worn by Rod Steiger and a few suspect food products some of the few (actually many) clues this is a Harry Alan Towers production, well that and the Moulin Rouge-themed club in Alaska. Relatively grand for a Towers of London "epic", with Lorne Greene (dressed as the First Doctor, astrakhan hat and all), Rod Steiger and Angie Dickinson supporting one-time Superboy Jeff East as Jack London. An early Vancouver movie (the future BC-shot genre TV regulars Michael Hogan and Blu "Jim in Huckleberry Finn" Mankuma" are among the actors alongside more familiar 70s Cancon regulars Gordon "Babar" Pinsent and Lisa Langlois as a teenage prostitute named Diamond Tooth Gertie). Rather dull despite some surprises.

The Looking Glass War (1969) - All-star spy thriller that literally wanders into the middle of nowhere. Cyril Shaps weirdly billed over Timothy West. Christopher Jones a dull lead. No wonder his career sank after it turned out post-Ryan's Daughter, he wasn't actually British, and had to be dubbed by Julian Holloway. Peter Finch was intended for the role of Leiser, Jones' character, who in the book is much older. The character of George Smiley is edited out of the script, but appears in the original LeCarre novel.  Scorpio is better.

Golden Needles (1974) - Robert Clouse's post-Enter the Dragon vehicle, again with Jim Kelly and Roy Chiao, but added Joe Don Baker. Features mystical nonsense about accupuncture needles that renew youth and sexual vigour - features a house mysteriously torched down by figures in hazmat suits wielding flamethrowers. Elizabeth Ashley is annoying, plus she looks disconcertingly like an angry Lorraine Chase. But it's meandering and boring, even when it's "Darius Jedburgh in Hong Kong". He even drinks  Jameson. But the film takes too long, even when Ann Sothern as a madam gets finger-torture. Meredith is fun, but the film is too mainstream for its own good. The climax, a proto-parkour footchase is pretty epic, but it takes too long to get there. The ending is a bit of a cop-out, though. Remade a year later as the trashier but badly-constructed Cirio Santiago film Bamboo Gods and Iron Men (197)5, also by AIP.

Birdy (1984) - Tonally all over the place, at points Parker thinks he's directing Midnight Express again. A lot of moping about. I like some of the photographic composition, but then again I liked the look and feel of Angel Heart (1987), even though the film is DTV-level erotic nonsense behind the gloss.

We're No Angels (1989) - Despite being set and shot in Canada and the US, and with an almost all-American cast, it still feels like a Terrible Irish Film, what with Jordan directing, Ray McAnally, "Catholic humour", and all.

Highway To Hell (1991) - Feels like it should have had a better budget, as the desert world of Hell feels too similar to the desert in the real world. Features Patrick Bergin as the Devil, the entire Stiller family (Ben as Atilla), Gilbert Gottfried as Hitler. It has some fun with the concept, and some intriguing visuals, but there's that 90s goofiness that permeates it and Chad Lowe's a feeble hero. Switch it with Kristy Swanson as the heroine, and it'd have been better. It feels a bit like a darker Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey. And features someone calling himself Troy Tempest.

Been watching films like the flat Prizzi's Honor (1985 - it's not even beautifully shot like The Dead), Hoffa (1992 - great matte-work, and very artificial interior-exteriors too) - which I don't enjoy or am really interested in, but I watch them for the cinematography not the plot, and Oliver Stone's JFK (1991) and Nixon (1995). Just trying to seep in cinematography. The incessant flashbacks clutter up too much. They feel overlong and laborious, but they are ambitious.

And overlong but attractive pieces, namely  the 1981 double-bill Reds (1981 - not a big fan -the documentary bits muddy the waters) and the much richer Ragtime (1981 - RIP Milos Forman), which looks almost Fellini-esque at times. And it has the "million girls" song from the Simpsons "Princess Kashmir" episode. And Richard Griffiths as an American. And Jimmy Cagney in "young age" makeup.  Bruce Boa billed over Jeff Daniels and Samuel L. Jackson.

Antonioni is still rubbish, though.

Tried Bonfire of the Vanities (1990), what the fuck are they going for? No wonder De Palma never appeals.

Sisters (1973) - Feels bland, like a lesser cover version of Paul Bartel's Private Parts. It feels kind of empty, halfway between exploitation rubbish and a nothingy Hollywood thriller. Points for a character called Milius. The faux-Canadian ending with a cow and a tractor at a railway station, and Charles Durning in callipers tied to a pylon with binoculars - at least that's not forgettable, unlike most of the film.The split-screen just confuses matters.

Cannery Row (1982) - Too alienating in its artifice, rather dry, feels like it's a hard-hitting drama set in Toytown or Altman's Sweethaven. Audra Lindley (the American Yootha Joyce) is quite fun, though.

Private Benjamin (1980) - Almost TV movie-level in its backlot phoniness at times. Not much to say. Good for the genre it is in, but not my kind of comedy.

Tried watching Slaughter's Big Ripoff (1973), and bar the opening biplane assassination, it is nothing special. All the beats and humour segments - all almost identical. Slot in scenes, change actor or gender - and you'll get the likes of Hammer, Bucktown, Foxy Brown or Coffy, or the slightly more imaginative Cleopatra Jones. And unless, shot in New York, a lot of them don't look particularly visually astonishing. Though Foxy Brown (1974) has a nice title sequence featuring Swindon's finest (Yes, Pam Grier was raised in England, being a USAF brat), and a nice castration punchline.

Watching the Hudsucker Proxy (1994). The design and the mattes fascinate me, and Roger Deakins' cinematography is lovely, but I find Tim Robbins annoying, because he's a bit Michael Crawford-ish in it.  It's basically Crimewave II - This Time, It's Better. The Raimi influence is visible.  Probably the Coens' best looking film. Barton Fink and Miller's Crossing look good, but this looks different.

The Freshman (1990) - Bits of it sparkle, and Broderick is relatively appealing for someone who once killed two ladies in Fermanagh, although Brando is almost too good that it hurts it - because he's not like the Godfather. He IS THE Godfather. Maximillian Schell, Jon Polito, Paul Benedict and Bruno Kirby are all good. It's a rather generic comedy that goes very strange towards the end, but it works. It goes from sweet generic teen romance to komodo dragon smugglers,  and Jon Polito (I miss Jon Polito) and Richard Gant as undercover agents. The idea of an expensive feast of endangered animals is brilliant -almost Roald Dahl level genius.  One of the few US mainstream comedies I've seen that hits my sweet spot, maybe as it's about film students. They even have a Gwendoline poster on the wall. More engaging than My Cousin Vinny (I'm not a fan of courtroom stuff per se - I find it viusally unstimulating, even though I like Witness for the Prosecution but that's Laughton!).
And something like Throw Momma From The Train (1987), it's alright, but it's a little sweetened, though the storybook ending is ironic.

Was going to check out the other weird comedy Brando did - Free Money, a Canadian thing by Yves Simoneau whose films I've seen bits of (Pouvoir Intime, In The Eyes of The Dragon and the Robbie Coltrane vehicle Perfectly Normal) and were kind of forgettable. But it looks like an erotic thriller from the time.

Tuesday 10 April 2018

10 (exc. shorts) Over the Edge, sketch movies, Rue Morgue, silents, Deadly Sweet, Bluebeard

Deadly Sweet (1967) - Murder in a London of dancing businessmen, Lon Chaney Jr posters on hip pad walls, and beautiful continental people.  Tinto Brass' truly schizophrenic giallo, impossible to understand, follow and really enjoy, despite cameos from Janet Street Porter and Dave Prowse (yes, really). Cuts from stock footage of Israel and Korea to swinging London doesn't work. The soundtrack is great, though. Saw this years ago and the tune still stuck.

Are the Groove Tube and Tunnel Vision too tatty to be funny.... I love Amazon Women on the Moon and like Kentucky Fried Movie, but the others feel amateurish, almost like college jokes.

Over The Edge (1979) - Youth on the rampage movie, though excellently directed by Jonathan Kaplan, the way it goes from Disney kids into The Warriors does take some use to. The characters are annoying, but that may be deliberate. It feels almost post-apocalyptic, so convincingly barren is the new town of New Grenada. A well-made film, though. And the ending packs a punch.

The Man Who Laughs (1928) - Universal silent, the silent horror seems almost more inclined to panto than anything we know as horror (because the first modern horror was Dracula in 1931, obviously).  Things like the 1920 Golem feel almost like magic shows. The Man Who Laughs is this big slice of ham, admirable, and enjoyable. Everyone looks washed out. And lots of silly wigs, which is always a good thing. Conrad Veidt is great.

Phantom of the Rue Morgue (1954) - Karl Malden in strange adaptation of Poe, a colour cash-in on House of Wax, again in 3-D. Looks good, but the same old tosh. Though the trampoline-using climax in a zoo is well-staged.

The Magician (1916 - b/w) - Like the Golem, featuring Paul Wegener (but directed by Irishman Rex Ingram, with assistance by a 21 year old Michael Powell), a US production shot in Paris., based on a Maugham roman a clef of Aleister Crowley. Something of a sentimental melodrama in occultist drag. Nice lab sets, though.

The Unholy Three (1930 - B/W) feels more like vaudeville than anything, even when it leaves the circus (Chaney really reminds me of Stanley Baxter).

Bluebeard (1972) - Utterly confused as to what it is, is it a Dr. Phibes knockoff, a sweeping period epic a la Nicholas and Alexandra, or some sort of quasi-steampunk period romp, or is it a sex comedy? It feels lacking, it's not daft enough. It's ludicrous, but it doesn't feel grounded. It's overlong, goes from place to place, and the death scenes make it look particularly like the cheap Euro-horror it really is, despite all the gloss. Plus the structure forces it to be very bitty.  It feels quite similar to Paul Morrissey's two Andy Warhol-sponsored horror pics, more opulent than the typical Euro-horror, but beneath all the glitz, still the same old tosh. Burton tries his best.

A lot of 70s animated shorts, Crunch Bird, the nonsensical Further Adventures of Uncle Sam and 2000 Year Old Man and some later Chuck Jones feel and look like Schoolhouse Rock. Somehow, the similarly handdrawn likes of the NFB's intriguing dragonfuel parable Blowhard manage to avoid thus style and actually be unique, a lot less scratchy.

The Bronswik Affair (1978) - A partly animated documentary about television.

Summer Legend (1986) - Prime NFB edutainment, based on First Nations myth. See also the similarly worthy but rather unmemorable Lucretia, Blackberry Subway Jam and The Eskimo Legends series, though the latter were by the talented puppeteer Co Hoedeman, behind the  the impressive variety act of Marianne's Theatre, the Ludovic Bear shorts, 55 Socks and the cutesy La Boite. .

Paradise (1984) - Basically a NFB-sponsored music video for the Lonely Shepherd by James Last. Lots of nature and birds.

The Necktie (2008) - Very French-Canadian short, reminiscent of the work of Adam Elliot. Accordion animation is fun.

The Balgonie Birdman (1991) - NFB true story, about early flying, voiced by a man who sounds like Angela Lansbury.

Invasion of the Space Lobsters (2005) - Interesting design (fried egg-flying saucers!) but marred by being made on Flash, see also the poignant Uncle Bob's Hospital Visit (2008).

The Wanderer (1988) - A weird painted b/w NFB western - more art than plot. Lots of shapeshifting.

Watched the Tex Avery-esque NFB Emergency Numbers (1984), the Oirish Hudden and Dudden and Donald O'Neary (1978, narrated by prolific Canuck cartoon voice Walter Massey) and the uncanny valley 1991 enterprise The Lump (see also the similarly disconcerting Madame Tutli-Putli and the CGI blur-heavy stop motion of the Hungry Squid). Most of these are part of the NFB series Canada Vignettes alongside the Log Driver's Waltz, Logger, Spence's Republic, the fun little Catapult Canada and the historical caricatures Fort Prince of Wales and Lady Frances Simpson (about the transport of a piano through the Atlantic), and a mix of documentaries and Jackanory-type stories (e.g. Port Royal and Onions and Garlic) and profiles covering such topics as the Welsh-esque mining choirs of Cape Breton.

Watched the tragic Ryan Larkin's wonderful montage Walking (1968), the beautiful morphing of Street Morphing (1972) and the troll-like nude of  1966's Syrinx.

Shyness (1996) - Probably the best alternative Frankenstein thing I've seen - a spoof from the NFB where a shy monster named Trevor is created, and the doctor and his sidekick try to communicate via sock puppets. He falls in love, but his creators ensure he may come back - his batteries only last a month. Similar to the NFB's Spinnolio - where the puppet is well-behaved, because he never moves, so he fails PE, but is rewarded for his cool head.

Taa Tam (1995) - Visually interesting but rather lacking thing about dreadlocked blue tribespeople. More suited to a title sequence. 

Bossa Bop (1974) - NFB proto music-video, with dancing, painted figures with no faces.

Boy and the Snow Goose (1984) - Charley Says-meets-anime style story about a boy who nurses a snow goose. Like a nicer cartoon adaptation of Kes.

Pies (1984) - A homely, almost fuzzy-felt style NFB short about prejudice. Kind of preachy, but a nice twist (they're both immigrants!).

The Reluctant Deckhand (1969) - Very Vancouver animation that is very wholesome but kind of Uncanny Valley, like a more realistic Charley Says style.

9 - Spasms, Celia, Mary Deare, Marx, cartoons, Czech

Brain Donors (1992) - there's a good cast (though Bob Nelson's speaking Harpo is a bit annoying). Initially it seems unsure how close should it follow the Marx Brothers. How did John Savident get into this? Though Mel Smith and John Turturro singing Alfie - well that's something. The duck hunt scene too. But the Will Vinton titles and end credits are so good - a stop-motion version may have worked better. But then I realised the version I was watching was mostly Russian. So I watched the English version. "No dogs! I used to be a chef in a Korean restaurant!"  "She's twice the man you are!" "We're their twin brothers! You'll never see us together! We're the same women!" "Jackson Pollock Jr, Son of Roy Litchenstein!". Lots of good lines. But I can see why it flopped.

Spasms (1983) with Oliver Reed and Peter Fonda indulging in ESP with snakes seems promising, the port stuff and the initial daytime roaming about Canadian mansions is attractive, better shot than a lot of Canadian stuff, the locations are picturesque unlike the typical brutalist architecture of Montreal, but then it kind of loses something despite UNIT-like chaos with soldiers and stuff. It doesn't know what it is. It seems that the budget was cut. The much-hyped Dick Smith effects are barely seen.

Celia (1989) - Weird, arty, unsettling possibly for other reasons - like a kids' TV version of the Company of Wolves (with creepy monsters) via Blue Remembered Hills (with actual kids and not Colin Welland, Poldark, Helen Mirren, Michael Elphick, Character Actor Colin Jeavons, Janine Duvitski and one of the Johns running about being stupid). A bit too arty and ponderous for its own good.

Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959) - Gary Cooper, Charlton Heston and Richard Harris appear in this rather hokey Mid-Atlantic maritime potboiler, lots of tilting and boring courtroom stuff, why Hitchcock turned it down. Harris' Northern accent goes from Lancashire to Limerick to Limehouse. Despite being an MGM British production, for coproduction reasons, partly shot on the MGM Hollywood backlot, even though most of it shot in Britain to claim Eady money.

Morgiana (1972) - Attractive but melodramatically nonsensical gothic horror from Morgiana - Czech and Eastern European period horror of the 70s seems so much more refreshingly different than British period horror of the era. It doesn't feel stagey or tired, like most of the post-Hammer stuff. This is Gainsborough stuff, but it's shot with fish-eye lens and over-stylised designs, and the Bulgarian beach locations look appealingly apocalyptic. but then it goes even stranger than your typical giallo - with weird 3-D blue and red tints.  Luboš Fišer's score's nice. It does feel quite similar to some of the Italian stuff, It then goes a bit nun-centric. RIP director Juraj Herz. Also behind the psychedelically alienating noir-wavey The Cremator (1969), a quite haunting if almost incomprehensibly darkly-lit version of Beauty and The Beast (1978), and the wonderfully weird carnival fantasy Devate Srdce/Ninth Heart (1978) - about a wizard stealing hearts of children. The Ninth Heart is quite atmospheric and charming, a la Vampire Circus via Silas via the Amazing Mr. Blunden plus melting villains.
Czech kids' films seem to be free of schmaltz, and often have surrealistic animated title sequences. They're not Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre, which due to their tendency to cast the likes of Peter MacNicol and Mary Steenburgen as children, feel like they are secretly being orchestrated by Dennis Potter. Plus they often feel like they want to please the parents more - though Francis Ford Coppola's shot on video/CSO Rip Van Winkle seems to be a sort of homage to Jackanory Playhouse). And despite Lee AND Price, The Boy Who Left Home To Find Out About The Shivers is not as good as the Storyteller's version - Fearnot, even though Henson's series could be a bit soft, the effects were brilliant and the performances solid (unlike the rubbish Greek Myths followup). Peter MacNicol was by now out of his Dragonslayer phase,  while Reece Dinsdale still was kind of boyish without being disturbing. Plus, The Storyteller (despite French and Saunders' performances) wasn't as jokey. Faerie Tale Theatre is basically American panto via off-Broadway.

The Last Unicorn (1982) - The anime styles of Topcraft are impressive but cutesy. Mia Farrow and Alan Arkin's performances are kind of flat. Arkin is clearly trying to play the role as seriously as he can. Tammy Grimes sounds like Glynis Johns.

Watched some NFB. Despite a promising idea, 1963's The Great Toy Robbery is not a proto Toy Story but an animated western with added Santa, while three year old me would have loved the diggercentric 1967 construction themed short What On Earth... Now... To watch more Bob Godfrey..

Godfrey's stuff, yes, some of it is great (Small Talk is one of the most London things I've ever seen), and some of it is unfunny sex nonsense, but it's better crafted than the aggressively ugly likes of Stressed Eric, Crapston Villas, Bromwell High, Monkey Dust, Mr. Hell, aggressively ugly, and not in a Kricfalusi way, more a stained underwear Robin Askwith way. Godfrey's work still has that sexcom feel, that grim knickers vibe. You can see that he influenced Gilliam. Wicked Willie is rather obnoxious, but he is a cock.

From penises to Pele Pelican - the Sterling Holloway-voiced Winnie the Pooh-like peg-legged host of Hanna-Barbera's 1982 special We Think the World is Round - with anthropomorphic ships and a camp, lisping sea serpent - an interesting educational musical with Cesar Romero in voice and in likeness as the Santa Maria, one of Columbus' ships.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice (1980) - Vincent Price-narrated Canadian short - pretty folk adaptation, if a bit staid. Very Canadian, in its educational status and ligne claire-type animation.

The Fly (1968) Kafka-type short involving a man facing a giant fly that crashes through a wall, as the universe expands. Attractive if incomprehensible, from Zagreb film.

Mr. E from Tau Ceti - a Soviet Astro Boy from the 50s - cutesy but very strange, dubbed by Americans. Educational too, so random cuts to a naked man screaming on a planet.

Watched a lot of these on Jerry Beck's recommended youtube page - full of rarities, from Hayley Mills-hosted poetry readings by the likes of June Foray to Joop Geesink's Phillips Dollywood stop-motion shorts and the rather odd sort-of-trying to be hip Czech-made Gene Deitch Nudnik shorts to Chuck Jones' dance sequence The Tool Box, which is just stop-motion animations of dancing pencil compasses and the barely animated Wacky World of Numbers, and the fun How To Live With A Neurotic Dog (a more refined UPA-style Deitch-drawn public information film about dogs narrated by Arthur Treacher). Also the work of Filmation/Belvision director Paul Fennell's 30s Minitoons (which look like cartoons, but then turn out to be ads for the likes of Shell!), and various obscrutieis from every studio - Van Beuren's adap of the Little King, Terrytoons' Elephants, some Felix the Cat, the Universal Pooch the Pup, Private Snafu, and Van Beuren's Jolson spoofing Croon Crazy.

 Mr. Winkle Returns (1954) - General Mills ad, nicely animated with some ill-fitting deep voices for cutesy characters.

Beauty Shoppe (1954)  - English monkey and his grandsons put makeup on animals. Charming Ub Iwerks short.

The Itch (1965) - Paramount Modern Madcap, voiced by Hermione Gingold and Deputy Dawg. Set in a weird version of London with green buses (actually correct - if you've seen On The Buses, you'll know this). It is about a henpecked Richard Bucket-type with wings, has a very strange view of UK TV, is pleasingly odd. The Ringading Kid, another ModernMadcap is a more typical jokey cowboy thing.  However, this era of Paramount also gave us the minimalist the Trip (1967) which is very NFB-ish and about big whirry computers, andthe  UPA-ish all-white humans (white clothes, white fingers, white nose, white hair, everything) of Swifty and Shorty.

Three Bears (1939) -  Terrytoons, a wobbly, zany spin on Goldilocks with an added hunter. Not as good as Tex Avery's spins, but with its own weird charm. Not to be confused with the Chuck Jones version.

The Cask of Amontillado (1978) - A Poe reading for Encylopaedia Britannica, illustrated by still drawings. Nice drawings but very much edutainment.

Also saw  UPA's very strange, deliberately unattractive The Unenchanted Princess, weird amateur efforts like The Good, the Bad and the Furry (a spaghetti western with bigfoot), Hanna-Barbera's Les Kaluza's Potpurri (a 55 second pen drawing) and Saul Bass/Disney associate Evind Earle's Bass-esque western Death and Sunrise A lot of Ub Iwerks, like MGM/Iwerks' Willie Whopper - a weirdly annoying Archie-type kid, with lots of weird visual gags - and one scene with Poseidon rising out in front of a ship that surely influenced Harryhausen.   Some, like Terrytoons' Popcorn look like every other 30s cartoon, lots of skeletons, hippos, ghosts and weird unspecified vaguely mouse-like animals.   Columbia's Scrappy character of the late 30s/early 40s has the feel of an Our Gang short with added child violence (they get weird - Holidayland is Gullivers Travels with an added baby factory and a dog being turned into a hose feature).
Republic Pictures' cartoons seem to trade in racial stereotypes with their Jerky Journeys though The Three Minutes look like a living western paperback cover.
The Cuckoo IQ from Columbia is educational, teaching us trivia that the peanut is not a nut, while their Carpenters is a typical slapstick exercise involving three idiots. Columbia's Pickled Puss on the other hand is the more barefaced 40s Tom and Jerry knockoff imaginable.

Terrytoon's Dead End Cats (1947) seems to be a typical Tom and Jerry knockoff until Mighty Mouse appears. Terrytoons are very funny animal-heavy, and I find funny animals on their own annoying. You need jokes or genius to make them work. Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck work because they are characters, not animals. 60s Terrytoons like Flebus or Gadmouse seem to be trying to create new characters, who just don't register. Then again, some characters who annoy have huge fanbases - look at Woody Woodpecker. But their more experimental Terrytoons like the Karloff-narrated minimalist monastery Juggler of Our Lady are very experimental - almost on a  National Film Boardf Canada level, and they're in Cinemascope, so they are very minimalist and wide-shot.

Gag and Baggage (1952) is a Harveytoon (I haven't seen much Harveytoons bar the odd Casper, obviously)   it's very subDisney, singing trains and funny animals. Famous/Harveytoons from what I know are sub-par, anyway, an attempt to fill the gap left by Fleischer.

Marty the Monk (1931) - an ultra-obscure storybook monkey character. Mixes some live-action artists a la Gertie the Dinosaur. Music by a pseudonymous Carl Stalling, of Looney Tunes fame. Very one-note.

Petroushka(1956) - Paul Frees-narrated Stravinsky ballet short/proto music video, a passable imitation of UPA by UPA's own John Wilson, who did the animation for Grease, despite being based in Lancashire.

Friday 6 April 2018

18 - Eurohorror, Eurocomedy, Island of Lost Souls, Frank 1970, Lady in a Cage, Dr. Renault's Secret, Gorilla at Large, Slap Shot, Thunder Road, Werewolves on Wheels

Anguish (1986) - A  stylish but confusing slasher (WTF is Michael Lerner doing in this?)  - a grim slasher with a meta-subplot. Demons (1985) is a sloppier but more fun spin on the same idea (Rambo kid!).   Directed by Bigas Luna, whose Reborn (-1981) from what I've struggled with it is similar, an interesting Catholic thing made uninteresting with flat direction and trying to be a straight drama, despite Michael Moriarty and Dennis Hopper as a televangelist.

Zeder/Return Of The Dead (1982) - Attractively produced alt-zombies set in a holiday camp, by Pupi Avati whose House With the Laughing Windows is hailed as one of the best gialli because it's a period piece a little more classy but still as nonsensical as your typical Euroschlock. This feels like an episode of Chateauvallon. The zombies aren't gut-munchers, just videotaped footage of dead middle-aged blokes doing a Max Headroom, in most cases.

Mad  Adventures of Rabbi Jacob (1974) - Set in  a very strange version of 70s New York full of French urchins playing baseball... Quite madcap, people falling into baskets, comedy car chases,  men whacking fish with umbrellas, while on a car phone in the rain, in a river. Culture-clash comedy involving an identity swap where a gangster takes on the identity of a New York rabbi. Possibly the most gunge-heavy film I have ever seen. Quite silly, and broad, but that's the French for you. It might lose something in translation. Director Gerard Oury behind Ace of Aces and The Brain, has the action of the former, and the silliness of the latter.
Le gendarme et les extra-terrestres (1979) - Again, like Rabbi Jacob, more Louis De Funès. The popular French comedy series adds a Mork-like alien. Quite pleasing, well-made and joyfully silly, but again one wonders what it loses in translation. The end resembles an episode of It's A Knockout, with a parade against a fake floating flying saucer used as bait at a quay. Has Lambert Wilson as an alien. Has lots of doppelgangers, androids with banging metal noises and a water fight. It's that kind of live action cartoon. De Funès also appeared in the similar Cabbage Soup a year later - featuring aliens from the planet Oxo. After a while, French slapstick can get wearing.

La Grande Vadrouille (1966)- More Oury/De Funes, attractive but to an English audience, despite Terry-Thomas, utterly nonsenscal wartime farce.

Island of Lost Souls (1932 - B/W). I usually find 1930s films samey, but because it has a different structure unlike any other Moreau adap, which maybe why it is the best, and Charles Laughton is... well Charles Laughton. And the sets are extraordinary. And the Beast-Men, even Lugosi do feel like real creatures, almost like sideshow freaks that Tod Browning turned down for being too strange. Using a set rather than some  attractive but not grotesque enough island helps.  In a lot of cases, Early cinema is so much different from later post-1950s cinema. Reminds me a lot of early television, it's still quite a stagey, it's almost a different medium. Lost Souls is somewhere between mondo documentary and pantomime. It feels primal, like a circus freakshow. It would have lost something in colour. Then, it would have felt like some stagey fantasy like Dr. Cyclops or The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T, and felt a different kind of kids' TV show weird.

Lady In A Cage (1964) - An effective idea Olivia De Havilland trapped in a lift in her house so there's no shaft and she just sees James Caan wrecking the place. But for most part, it feels very TV - the characters are unconvincing juvenile delinquents and it's all surprisingly grim with a shocking ending that you probably couldn't achieve if it were  an episode of Hitchcock Presents, with all the extras and cars.

Frankenstein 1970 (1958) - A nicely produced opening turns out to be a swizz - it's a film - better produced than most quickies of the period - still fairly routine - Frankenstein with Karloff now as the Baron and lots of big computers with reels going one way and then turning back another. The monster as usual doesn't get out until the final five minutes, and is entirely bandaged - so a Number One in the Prisoner ending can be used, also to save on makeup or bothering to do something that isn't the Karloffian design. "Hey, we can't use the old Universal design. Well, let's just have him look like Karloff then!"

Dr. Renault's Secret (1942) - Routine gothic nonsense with George Zucco, handsomely mounted. George Zucco a convincing depiction of a monkey man rather hilariously named Noel, but it is all rather padded. Paired with the excellently shot if rather old hat The Undying Monster (1942) on original release.

The Last of Sheila (1973) - Nice, agreeable mystery, more like watching people at a dinner party on the Continent, or Lovejoy - the Early Years. Reminds me of Sleuth (1972), a film I feel I should like more, but find the characters awful.
Watching And Then There Were None (1945 - B/W)again - Fitzgerald  is Fine Gael incarnate - predates so many Irish politicians - hiding villainy behind his typical leprechaunish role (which spawned Oirishness in the same way that costar Richard Haydn spawned a host of copycat butlers - his voice is imitated in dozens of US cartoons), the idea it's all a front - like a lot of these refined bodycount thrillers, unlike perhaps slashers, you became so wrapped up in the party going on, you lose track who's actually dead or alive. Apart from the Old Dark House, all other Old Dark House-lite films pale into comparison.

Gorlla at Large (1954) - Colourful if derivative Kong/Rue Morgue hybrid with Cameron Mitchell (with dyed golden hair), Anne Bancroft, Raymond Burr, Lee Marvin and Lee J.Cobb. Lots of circus act padding. The gorilla stuff is fun, but it's a pretty routine 50s "colour crime movie" (it's the sort of film Steven Penny wanted to make in Crime Wave).

Watched Werewolves on Wheels (1971 - duff biker nonsense), Slap Shot (1977 - I like the setting but it feels a bit sad seeing Paul Newman in such an uncouth comedy - it feels more expensive and glossier than it should be), noir/western hybrid Thunder Road (1958 - B/W - not my type of film, but interesting).

Thursday 5 April 2018

8 plus diversions (15 ish including - possiblydo not count...) - Sherlock, When A Stranger, Jordan, The Brain 1969, Phenomena, Alligator, Bloodtide, Avalanche Express

 A Study in Terror (1965) - Sherlock vs Jack the Ripper - Round 1. Not remade as the superior Murder By Decree (that being an adaptation of the Z Cars special Jack the Ripper), despite Frank Finlay as Lestrade in both, and both also having Anthony Quayle. I like Murder by Decree, even though there are a few bits of Cancon miscasting (why did people think in the 70s that Donald Sutherland was a convincing Victorian?)  A Study In Terror, despite some gloss is such an ordinary film. It doesn't know if it is an all-star Victorian romp or a Hammer knockoff. It seems to be shoehorning in all the Sherlock tropes, including Robert Morley in a "special guest appearance" as Mycroft. Donald Houston's Watson is rubbish (his brother Glyn would have been a better fit, I feel - more solid, more composed, a convincing war veteran),  and John Neville's Holmes is ordinary, more Peter Wimsey (ironically, as Glyn Houston played his sidekick Bunter). Neville is underplaying it, to the point that he's completely unassuming. Even Robert Stephens had a power, a conviction, an anger. Neville seems too composed.   Weird seeing young Judi Dench. And Barbara Windsor being Barbara Windsor. 

 I find Neil Jordan's commentaries more interesting than his films. I find his films look samey. I like certain images in Mona Lisa (1986), the caravan in the shed, but it's a TV play. It's a Channel 4 film C4 didn't want. It's about a racist/homophobe falling in love with a black lesbian.

 When A Stranger Calls (1979) - Though Tony Beckley is good, a well-made if rather lacking, depressing film - doesn't know if it s a cop thriller or a slasher. It lacks punch. Good performances from Carol Kane and Charles Durning, but it's not that special. But then I find the slasher a rather limiting genre. I don't enjoy them really. Not even the big ones. Not even Halloween. US teens often annoy me (and a lot of US horror alienates me - even stuff like the Count Yorga films, sometimes when trying to do gothic, they just don't have the budget, locations or actors fit for it). The difference between a good slasher and a bad slasher is not the plot, but usually in the cast and cinematography. There may be one little difference in the costume or backstory,  or a difference between the filler scenes of teens doing stuff, but I realise that an intriguing experiment would be to make a slasher film out of different slasher films. Cutting scenes from one to another to try to create something as coherent as the incoherent films themselves.

 Phenomena (1985)- I'm not an Argento fan (Suspiria and Inferno look good but they're more about visuals than story), and I used to like a lot of Italian horror, but now find a lot of it bollocks because there's no substance - and often a lot of it can be very slack, visually, and overstyled where it isn't. Moments may be fun, but a lot of the films are magpies stealing from other things, and Italian exploitation's knockoffs always lack the invention of a John Sayles, and plus actors are often cast for their look, not for their presence or talent. Phenomena is a weird but sometimes enjoyable mess. It's a typical slasher at first, then goes insane with the insect attacks, and a few off-kilter additions. The Mallory Towers with an otherwise appealing Jennifer Connelly stuff is wearing, the metal soundtrack including some unfortunate Bill Wyman tracks just doesn't work, but Donald Pleasence as a Scottish professor trying to teach a chimp not to get paper cuts is just extraordinary. And the photography of Switzerland is nice. But it's a mess.

 The Brain (1969) - All-star comedy, like After The Fox, Grand Slam, a heist film that is only slightly entertaining yet extremely colourful, attractively shot but almost utterly forgettable. One of Niven's various follies around this time, Casino Royale, Prudence and the Pill, Where The Spies Are... There is a weird cartoon interlude, but there's too much laboured, utterly baffling Euro-slapstick from Bourvil, though the end gag is fun. A lot of these heist movies, e.g. the Italian Job, I liked them as a kid. But they're like cakes. Big sugary delights you love as a kid, but then as an adult, are so incomprehensible, they overwhelm you until you get violently sick. At least, Grand Slam has an affecting performance from Edward G. Robinson as a man stuck in Brazil for years who gets to see his native New York again. And a good soundtrack.
But it suffers because like Those Magnificent Men..., After The Fox, Who Is Killing The Great Chefs of Europe, et cetera, you have all these comedians from all over the world - and their comedy stylings clash because their comic timing and sense of humour are all at different time zones. Even 1941 has this.

 Bloodtide (1982) - Dull Greek sea monster thing with James Earl Jones, Jose Ferrer and aerobics.

 Alligator (1980) -The monster action is sensational, but the comedy is not the sort I ever gravitated to. It's similar to how I feel with apart from The Stuff and Salem's Lot, the cop vs monster plot is so rote and basic, and typical. I'd have made Henry Silva's character the lead. His big game hunter is so much more interesting than Robert Forster's typical B-movie cop hero. And the Chicago setting isn't that convincing. It feels too small for the size of the world. It's no Digby the Biggest Dog in the World, even though the plot is similar. Jim Dale might have been a more interesting hero, and I'm not actually joking. Forster's good, but the character's a bit of a walking cliché, albeit a bit more fleshed out than normal.  And I'm weird. But I don't necessarily want an episode of Hill Street Blues with my monster. The UK poster pushed it as a ZAZ-type spoof comedy, and I honestly wonder if that would have worked better. It's un-enthusiastically directed. A Joe Dante could have done wonders.

 Avalanche Express (1979) - What could have been an interesting film, a slightly more B-movie Cassandra Crossing with Irish production money and added British character actors (Richard Marner from 'Allo 'Allo! Cyril Shaps from everything!*), despite some well-orchestrated action can't stop but feel somewhat empty after the deaths of director Mark Robson and star Robert Shaw in production.  Gene Corman's post-production gives the whole thing a TV movie flair. Like Don Siegel's Telefon or  John Hough's Brass Target or the Sean Connery vehicle The Next Man or the same year's Love and Bullets, it is a competent but aimless Euro-thriller that is well-orchestrated but just lacks that fizz or sufficient interest from the cast and crew. Lee Marvin is good, but it lacks the weird energy of the Cassandra Crossing. The plot is also over-complicated. The action's good, but there's no fizz. The avalanche is better done than the Corman film of the same name. And at least it has a scene in a room decorated with pictures of Cyril Shaps, pencil portraits, paintings, the whole works. And every house should have a room like that, the Jackdaw Suite, if you will.

*Doctor Who, The Spy Who Loved Me, The Odessa File, Porridge, the Young Ones, lots of US miniseries - The Bourne Identity, QB VII, Holocaust, all those Hallmark fantasies, The Spaceman and King Arthur, one of Harry Alan Towers' Sherlock things...

Wednesday 4 April 2018

8 - Next of Kin, Herman Cohen, Executioner, Shuttered Room, Madhouse, Untouchables

Next of Kin (1982) - Full of strange imagery, rain falling down in the desert of an Aussie old people's home, old men in baths, like an Aussie soap opera reversioned by a madman. There's no real plot, but it looks great. Nice sequence in a haunted services with a kid dressed as a soldier, an arcade machine and ballet on the telly. And lots of vehicular mayhem - a van crashing through the services. This being an Aussie horror. Thought I saw it before, but realised I saw only the opening. It gets going. It is really interesting, and also not bland, unlike a lot of Ozploitation.  It's a Clemensy idea given a good visual treatment.

99 & 44/100 Dead (1974) - Strange film,by John Frankenheimer - halfway between the French Connection and Doc Savage - The Man of Bronze. Some visual innovation but not quite enough. Richard Harris on autopilot. Similar but not quite as engrossing as 1972's Prime Cut, from the same writer. The opening is great. Chuck Connors as a feather-duster-handed assassin is great. But Ann Turkel is rubbish (she always was). The killer is the tone and the bland setting. Some of the performances are too heightened, especially Bradford Dillman. The last 45 minutes peak up, but it's so strange. If it had been an Italian film, it might have been better. The school bus chase is good, but it doesn't hang together as a film. The scene where Harris fleeces from an explosion is well-timed. Edmond O'Brien plays Frank Kelly.  I suppose it is a discovery.

Trog (1970) - Weirdly Mid-Atlantic accented spelunkers and the very English David Griffin get lost in cave, and Joan Crawford and Griffin, while searching for the others find a Missing Link, which wrecks a local TV company and then find that classical music and Major Matt Mason dolls sooth it, and light and Major Matt Mason madden it. It's an overlong story for such a film, but the whole way the film is played as if it is Flowers for Algernon, that somehow the crew were trying to make it a proper drama to please Crawford, it's just bizarre. It's a terrible idea, even if done as an Out of the Unknown.  There's an interesting germ there, if it were done with a more realistic costume and a treatment like First Born with Charles Dance, but there's a Burt Reynolds film - Skullduggery from the same year which is a more serious treatise on the same idea, and that is itself a massive folly, although it is more convincing (and the makeup much better, i.e. Japanese girls in whiteface with orangutan fur).  It is known to be gloriously awful, and it is, but who knows if it had been better if it hadn't been so earnest... Konga and Gorgo are better, if only because of the monster suit destroying London stuff is fun, and they are both fabulously silly.

The Executioner (1970) - Average UK spy thingy, feels a bit ITC. Written by Jack Pulman and directed by Sam Wanamaker. George Pepper (yes, I know but my grandad called him Pepper, so it sticks)  plays a British spy raised in the US. A lot of flashbacks. Feels like a rubbish episode of Department S. Lots of moping about with Joan Collins.

Watching the Untouchables (1987). I don't like the actual film, but I like the design and the look of it, and the recreation of Chicago (I like when they build worlds for film), and the soundtrack's great.

The Shuttered Room (1966) - Workmanlike but sporadically creepy Fauxmerican Lovecraftian horror - Carol Lynley (who I always wondered was she UK-based because of her prolific appearances in British horror, then discovered she was the longtime partner of David Frost) and Gig Young are the American imports. A fair recreation of Maine in England.  But the plot is muddled, a Beast in the Cellar-type plot (Flora Robson and all, with a female caged up adding a Jane Eyre-ish element) ensuring a typical gothic potboiler with added supernatural elements (like a lot of contemporary Lovecraft adaptations that toned down the weirdness and upped the soap), plus juvenile delinquents. Oliver Reed and Rick "Yoffy from Fingerbobs" Jones appear. Bernard Kay is scarred, and Donald Sutherland dubs at least one actor. Not that enjoyable, kind of nasty in that downbeat way the Hammer Frankensteins could be, without the period gloss. Director David Greene went on to do Roots and Rich Man, Poor Man, and Grey Lady Down. And Godspell.

Berserk (1967) - How do Joan Crawford and Michael Gough have a proper plugged-in non-portable telly in their TARDIS-esque caravan? "As old as my elephants and twice as wrinkled!" It's a grim variety show linked by murders. It's a more showbizzy Circus of Horrors. Enjoyable fluff. A lot of these mid-rate British horrors don't excite me the way they did when I was 16, and this isn't quite as weird as it appears. The murders are too infrequent considering the size of the cast. It seems afraid to kill off certain cast members. Like Trog, it seems to think it's a serious drama in order to lure Crawford, but it's a variety show with murders. Philip Madoc's good as Diana Dors' sinister foreigner husband (Prague via Glamorgan, going by the accent) with a conscience who knows what is going on. George Claydon too, as the dwarf. (Seems to have quite an initeresting life, Claydon - Oompa Loompa, club comic, Joan Collins' vengeful dance partner in I Don't Want To Be Born, and one-time sidekick to Rolf Harris!).  Robert Hardy looks disturbingly youthful. The love triangle stuff gets tired pretty quickly. The ending is OTT, and Judy Geeson's arrival so late that the supposed mystery isn't much, even though her OTT performance is something.   Better than Trog.

Madhouse (1974) - Vincent Price's last proper horror, Peter Cushing costars. A sort of Targets for the both of them, but confused whether it should be a horror-film version of Theatre of Blood, or a fitting epitaph for the British exploitation film industry. Features Michael Parkinson hosting for fictitious ITV region Rainbow Television, and Dr. Death (Price-as-Paul Toombes' fictional horror movie supervillain turned Uk telefantasy hero) reading Frank O'Connor. Very strange, could have been better, if a better script and director were involved. Too much filler, i.e. stock footage of earlier AIP-Price efforts.  But still more interesting than various period pieces of that era, i.e. I, Monster or whatever. And the ending is a keeper.

Monday 2 April 2018

6 - Castle, Bowie, 50s B-movies, Yankee Zephyr (+non-canonically, 8 sci-fi refs and some Castle mentions)

The Night Walker (1964 - B/W) - Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor in William Castle's strange dreamsploitation. It feels very TV-like, but the dream sequences are very appealing, better than anything Wes Craven ever did. Lots of talking mannequins, whirling faces. It does feel a bit sub-Serling, better suited to telly. But then it goes all a bit Brian Clemens at the end. Like a lot of Castle's films (including dare I say it, Rosemary's Baby, the Old Dark House, less so as it is Hammer and quite fun), it is a load of TV-ish old nonsense with some standout gimmicks in the middle. The soundtrack by Vic Mizzy is good, later reused as the theme for the 1972 Stewart Granger Hound of the Baskervilles.

The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976) - Slightly too disorientating and hard to follow for me. Bowie isn't a good actor. I know what Roeg is doing, but Roeg's films, apart from the Witches I find kind of inconsequential. Nice looking, but dull. Like Friedkin, I find he shoots around people than at people.

Race for the Yankee Zephyr (1981) - Nice locations in New Zealand, a good cast (Ken Wahl, Donald Pleasence, Lesley And Warren, George Peppard, Bruno Lawrence) but a confused tone (it should be a big epic adventure but ends up being a wacky comedy caper with a helicopter cockpit on tank-tracks the sole moment of innovation). The choice of David Hemmings as director may have ruined it. Nice soundtrack. Lee Tamahori as boom operator. It all boils down to a good cast and locations saddled with an uninteresting semi-heist plot about a crashed warplane (the Sneakers problems - interesting characters but rubbish situation). A lot of Australian exploitation has this problem. Always some interest, but quite often, not enough. Even Mad Max has it. Barry Humphries' movies and Howling III avoid it by throwing so much weirdness that most of it sticks. They're not great films but there's a sense of gonzo invention at work that a lot of Aussie B-movies dream of. Then again, unlike a lot of Aussie exploitation, they are proudly Australian, rather than blandly Mid-Atlantic like so many others.

Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959 - B/W) - Attractively shot Corman-produced antebellum insect attack film, blessed with a creepy atmosphere, but not much else. But more impressive than the typical poverty row studiobound shocker of the era. A lot of the Corman films of the era - there's an energy to them - something like The Wasp Woman is rubbish, but there's a kind of pop and fizz to the direction that's lacking in the acting or indeed the plot. They aren't great films, but the direction doesn't make them terrible. Uninteresting surroundings and routine action make them subpar. Corman and his mates, unlike other B-movie folk of the era tried their best, and made good out of what they had. They weren't trying to make art. They didn't know these films would still play today. It's the effort that counts. The best SF movies of the 50s are things like 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and Journey To The Centre of The Earth, the right mix of adventure and awe (which makes good SF, in my opinion), before those sort of period SF movies descended into all-star caper movies that were too busy trying to cast, mostly miscast as many stars as possible, and cramming in all sorts of jokey asides.
50s sci-fi wise, War of the Worlds I enjoy the most out of the alien movies (Body Snatchers I can see its quality, but it never connected with me, see also Day the Earth Stood Still), while The Fly's the best mad science/creature film. Jack Arnold's stuff i.e. Creature from the Black Lagoon is a good  solid journeyman thing blessed with good ideas and good performances, but not quite the scale they need, and the Creature I always felt was a character with untapped potential. And Harryhausen's early films, because they are US-made lack the great parade of British character talent that his later films benefit from - a human face alongside the creatures. The creatures carry the early films. And Forbidden Planet looks great, but it's a pilot for Star Trek, really.

Invasion of the Animal People (1960) - One of those typical poverty row shockers. But the Swedish snowbound location footage has an unearthly, alien feel  that something like Hammer's The Abominable Snowman lacks.

The Bat (1959) - Stagey, mechanical semi-period old dark house plodder with Vincent Price. Like an average Karloff Thriller or Hitchcock Presents. Nothing you haven't seen before. There's a character called Mr. Davenport, which makes everything seem like Rentaghost USA.