Thursday, 27 December 2012

This Week... #7 (19th December to 25th December 2012)

The Christmas festivities are over and the New Year is just a few days away. The following were the films I watched before and during Christmas. Ironically the films in pairs have striking similarities and things to compare to one another – excluding The Sun (2005), although even then comparisons can be made to it amongst the other films despite their obvious differences - which I only realise typing up these reviews.

19th December 2012: Kotoko (Shinya Tsukamoto, 2011)

The story of a single mother who suffers from double vision; caring for her baby is a nerve-wrecking task that eventually leads her to a nervous breakdown. She is suspected of being a child abuser when things get out of control and her baby is taken away. (IMDB)

It is a little disheartening in the first few scenes to see the director of Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) filming in a very low budget, shot-on-video film, but despite this hindrance, he transcends it and succeeds to make a great film. Not only does he take advantage of the technical flaws of the digital camera used to create abstract and nightmarish sequences, but it is wonderful to see the veteran auteur go full circle and show the beating human heart that has existed in his films since Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (1992). Behind the horrible violence in the film, based as much on its lead actress Cocco’s experiences with mental illness, are real emotions, the extremities in Tsukamoto’s films a cathartic representation of the internal conflicts that his characters, including ones played by himself, suffer from, shown on the beautiful face of Cocco fully in a great central role. Existing before Japanese cult cinema was about goofy prosthetics and ‘extreme’ content, Tsukamoto’s first film to be released in Britain in years shows that he is still a unique and talented director.

20th December 2012: Dans Ma Peau (Marina De Van, 2002)

A woman grows increasingly fascinated with her body after suffering a disfiguring accident. (IMDB)

It was probably not a good idea to watch this the day after Kotoko, both portraying very gruesome sequences and subject matter, but they are an intriguing pair of films to see one after the other, one a male director who channelled the observations and thoughts of its lead actress, who was a singer/musician beforehand, the other the debut of a French actress who placed herself within the lead role to channel the main concept of the feature without fear of what she would look like onscreen during certain scenes. Kotoko feels far more successful as it’s from a director who, despite an even lower budget, can pace his films more steadily, and made a move as much full of sad tenderness within it alongside the horror, with scenes of Kotoko with her family and the lead actress’ performance. Dans Ma Peau, viewed in the first time in many years, before my twenties, is colder, more vicious in tone and content, and eventually starts to lag before it reaches an implosive climax. It is still an admirable film, far more than merely sick content, but comparable legitimately to the body horror films of David Cronenberg in its distant but probing analysis of the main character’s alien syndrome, the real life obsession with self harm and distance from one’s body made into a psychological disorder as much as Cronenberg’s Crash (1996) made the erotic/violent side of injury and destroyed automobiles into a mental state for its characters. De Van has made at least two other feature films, and short works, a striking presence in the main role as well, which I want to see at some point as the talent she showed in this shines regardless of the flaws.

21st December 2012: The Sun (Alexander Sokurov, 2005)

Third part in Aleksandr Sokurov's tetrology, following Molokh and Telets, focuses on Japanese Emperor Hirohito and Japan's defeat in World War II when he is finally confronted by Gen. Douglas MacArthur who offers him to accept a diplomatic defeat for survival. (IMDB)

The Sun is an arthouse film in its fullest definition – minimalist yet dense in its mostly set based locations, slow paced and made of mostly static camera shots – but is also an exceptionally peculiar film. Already undercut by the real life history of Emperor Hirohito and how Japan was defeated in World War II, it becomes far more uncomfortable in its visual look – mostly artificial sets and images that, unless the version on the Artifical Eye DVD is a rare slip in quality for the company, are intentionally flawed and grainy in places – and a score that prickles with a frightening mood. It is a difficult film yet paradoxically it is a simple one: of an Emperor, chosen by divine blood rite before disavowing his godliness in surrendering for his country in the war, shown to be human in both his everyday, pedantic activities and a humanity that, bleeding into the film’s tone occasionally, allows for moments of light hearted humour as well as its serious ideas. Only the sequences with General Douglas MacArthur let the film down a bit, awkward in their introduction of more blatant analysis of the Pacific War, and that actor Robert Dawson looks like he has a ridiculously large, prophetic forehead, which a director as stringent in his work like Alexander Sokurov should have avoided from the start as such a silly concern is distracting from the importance of the material.

22nd December 2012: Dennis Potter’s Cold Lazarus (Renny Rye, 1996)

Dr. Emma Porlock and her colleagues, attempting to unlock the secrets of human memory for the Masdon drug empire, get a cryogenically stored 400-year-old human head to project its memories through virtual reality displays. But Porlock and her team are chronically under-funded, and she may have to go around Masdon to a media sleaze merchant to get the money she needs to maintain the project. But an even more complex world of secret police, RON (Reality-Or-Nothing) riots, and murder is going on outside the lab. And the deeper Porlock goes into the frozen memories of the writer Daniel Feeld, the more twisted the labyrinth of intrigue becomes. (IMDB)

I have only seen two of Dennis Potter’s television works, Karaoke (1996) and its quasi-sequel Cold Lazarus, but I can see the talent he had, a full depth in the dialogue characters speak and willingness as a writer to undermine and question reality and form, including his own life. Drawing on his rapidly approaching death, Karaoke is a fascinating meta mini-series. Cold Lazarus is such a drastic and unexpected shift for any viewer to encounter, especially when it continues with its lead character (Albert Finney) existing with an entirely different genre from the drama of before.

Made in the nineties, and made for British television, this science fiction work looks like something from its discordant time period, but its apparent datedness actually adds so much personality to a mini-series that, while certainly flawed, was a brave attempt for its script’s author to do, the last before his death that took the risk of exploring a new genre for himself while tackling his own failing mortality. If one gets past the ridiculously broad stereotypes of greedy, dumb American business tycoons, it still has some fascinating ideas on memory, in a way that can go from intelligent perceptions on it to ridiculously lewd and hilarious dialogue. It’s also an early role for Ciarán Hinds who, in a strong cast, stands out immensely.

23rd December 2012: Ghost In The Shell 2 – Innocence (Mamoru Oshii, 2004)

In the year 2032, Batô, a cyborg detective for the anti-terrorist unit Public Security Section 9, investigates the case of a female robot--one created solely for sexual pleasure--who slaughtered her owner. (IMDB)

From the films I’ve seen Mamoru Oshii, the original Ghost in the Shell (2005) is a culturally important landmark, and utterly incredible in its animation, but is a film with far too many mistakes to be more than a minor film in Oshii’s filmography, especially against works like Angel’s Egg (1985) and Patlabor 2 (1993), far too bogged down in its philosophical digressions, in how it is shown rather than the ideas themselves, and how it is put against its action scenes. Its sequel suffers as well but controversially I prefer it to the prequel after finally seeing it for the first time. Its presentation of really intelligent, thoughtful ideas on human existence is laboured, especially when characters start quoting the Bible and Confucius, without using its humour and characters’ eccentricities as fully as something like Cold Lazarus does, and the hand drawn animation of its prequel is the most striking of the two, but it’s a brave, utterly beautiful film, regardless of its CGI, and as an action sci-fi movie as well it is more fulfilling. It, at this moment, has the higher placement above its prequel for a sequence in a mansion later on, of realities within realities, that is out-of-the-blues, utterly bizarre and freakish at times, and incredible in how perfectly put together it is, from how it knocks the viewer out of their complacency and in how it shows the sequence’s philosophical ideas so clearly in its intentionally confusion, far more so than anything else within its story. Alongside the late Satoshi Kon’s work, it shows that Japanese anime is probably one of the best artforms to convey the plasticity of human beings’ perception of reality.

24th December 2012: The Valley of the Bees (Frantisek Vlacil, 1967)

Ondrej, a young boy who loves bees and bats, is introduced to his new mother, a woman much younger than his father. He brings her a basketful of flowers which she starts to throw in the air and then gives out a shriek, as she discovers several bats in the bottom of the bowl. In a rage, Ondrej's father picks the boy up and hurls him against the wall. As the boy lays on the ground paralyzed the father promises the Holy Virgin to dedicate the boy to her if she spares his life. Ondrej survives and is raised in a strict Knightly Order, where he is mentored by a devout monk, Armin. But one day, an extraordinary event makes him doubt the Order and remember where he came from. (IMDB)

It’s surprising how many more European films from the earlier decades feel far more rigorous in their look and visual design to many current arthouse films; it’s even more surprising, and sad, how many modern European films, and arthouse films from any country, look identical to each other and feel exceptionally inferior to films like Frantisek Vlacil’s The Valley of the Bees. More conventional in tone and structure to his monolith Marketa Lazarová (1967), Vlacil’s film is nonetheless a great analysis of religious ideology and morality filtered through a medieval world that is vivid in its narrative and the visual splendour Vlacil brought to the material.

25th December 2012: Black Death (Christopher Smith, 2010)

Set during the time of the first outbreak of bubonic plague in England, a young monk is given the task of learning the truth about reports of people being brought back to life in a small village. (IMDB)

In contrast to The Valley of the Bees, this is another medieval set film that fails to work. It is a genre film, of an entirely different tone and style to Vlacil’s, but it still fails in terms of what its director intended to do. It could have been good, but as well as being generic in its blood filled, period story, near the end it starts to question its supernatural tone, leaving its message muddled and hacking out its own legs from under it by becoming another modern genre film that ends on an unsatisfactory note. 

Saturday, 22 December 2012

The ‘Worst’ of Cinema 2013: An Introduction


[Note – This will be the last post, aside from a This Week... article or two, that I will put up this year. In January this series I am introducing now will start immediately. Additional Note - Screenshots used in this introduction are from films that may or may not be part of the season.]

There is something odd about me doing a season on terrible cinema in that I completely detest the concept of the ‘so-bad-its-good’ film or mocking films like Mystery Science Theatre 3000. A bad film is not a guilty pleasure, just painful to sit through, while films others would call guilty pleasures are erratic gems for myself, full of glaring flaws but with virtues as well even if they were accidental. I am the wrong person to do a thirty one day series on ‘bad’ cinema, but this could be to my advantage as I attempt one with trepidation and morbid curiosity. I decided to change the series from its original concept – ‘The Worst to the Worst’ – to ‘The ‘Worst’ of Cinema’, with the intention of choosing films that, within the categories I have selected, have been dismissed as awful films. They could be as terrible as their reputations suggest, but they could turn out to be great or at least far more rewarding then one’s expectations for them were originally. The three categories that my choices will be drawn from are simple and to the point –

1. The worst films. Any genre, any type of films.

2. The films called the worst by film critics and viewers throughout the decades, including those that have been critically re-evaluated.

3. Films that I have viewed as the worst I have seen since I started recording my opinions and scores on the films I have watched since I was a young adult.

Within these rules, anything can be reviewed if it qualifies in these categories. Like the last month long project I did in October, I have rules for how to do the series. This time I have the previous experience to help me modify them.


A. Real life if more important. If I miss days, I will make up for it in February so thirty one reviews are posted up.

B. I will try to keep the balance between rewatches and first time viewings right, so I can have immediate reactions and second opinions together. With the films I had as my worst viewing experiences to be re-reviewed within public blog writing, there is going to be a few more rewatches then last time.

C. No Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010), The Room (2003), or anything from The Asylum or on the Syfy channel. They go against my desired goal to make this an open minded excavation of the critical scrag big, with any jokes made side-by-side with them secondary, rather than a cheap excuse to mock instant ‘cult’ classics.

D. Just because a film is included in the series doesn’t mean I will give it a bad review. Even if it is a negative review, it’s better to agree to disagree rather than argue about it. Any negative critiques and jokes at a film’s expense are my personal opinion only.

Again with this season, I have not included a set list of films, but there are many potential candidates to choose from, too many for the thirty one slots. I hope to have as eclectic a collection of reviews as I did with the Halloween 31 For 31 series, with a further advantage that the subjective ‘worst’ of cinema can be even more diverse then the entire horror genre, not also taking into account how horror films by themself are a significant slice of this concept in film viewing. When the series starts on the 1st January and the New Year, I dread what I can dig up to review, but hope that amongst the lunacy and bad parody films that I will learn an important message from all of this. Whether my masochistic viewing tastes will protect me during this experience will depend on how legible my typing is by the end of this all and whether I don’t have nightmares about Troll 2 (1990) and the ilk.


Wednesday, 19 December 2012

This Week...#6 (12th December to 14th December 2012)

A much longer segment this time.

12th December 2012: Black Jack (Osamu Dezaki, 1996)

Joe Carol Brain attempts to hire Dr. Black Jack on a breed of superhumans that have the strength, intellectual, athletic, and artistic skills with great excel in different fields, only to later find out that they start deteriorating after some period of time and causing an untimely death. Joe needs Dr. Black Jack's help on finding a cure. (Anime News Network)

Based on a famous manga by Osamu Tezuka, this is the only animated medical thriller I know exists and is exceptionally good. Like Tezuka himself, a doctor before he became the most influential manga artist in Japan but also a creator of very fantastical content, this is a film that combines detailed realism, with medical consultants in the credits, with intentionally unrealistic concepts to heighten the drama. The animation is incredible, not as abstract as some of the work the late Osamu Dezaki and his reoccurring character designer Akio Sugino I have seen have been, but it is just as full of detail and experimentation with its look and tone, making it far from the stereotype of anime and more of a playful yet pulpy story.

13th December 2012: Central Bazaar (Stephen Dwoskin, 1975)

Consult the review I did for Halloween 31 For 31 here – It still lives up to the positive review I gave it two months ago.

14th December 2012: Lupin The Third – The Secret of Mamo (Soji Yoshikawa, 1978)

Lupin risks death to learn the secret and intentions of a wealthy and seemingly immortal, but certainly ruthless, recluse. (IMDB)

[Taken from a review I wrote on -] ‘Watching this and the late Osamu Dezaki’s 1996 adaptation of the manga Black Jack, I feel both sad at how a lot of anime made now, after the transition from hand drawn to digital animation, has lost its courage to be experimental and braver in its content, with only the film Redline as of yet standing out*, but grateful that, once in a while, works this strange, hilarious and imaginative get released on DVD by companies like Manga Entertainment. Its gender politics is of the times of its original source material, but this is a film that is fun and surreal, a term I can use fully because actual Surrealist paintings get incorporated into the scenery in one of the many inspired pieces of the films. The director Soji Yoshikawa, who sadly never made another theatrical film, brings a uniquely abstract tone to a story far more rambunctious, and sexually explicit, than the equally great The Castle of Cagliostro by Hayao Miyazaki. The screen writer Atsushi Yamatoya deserves credit too though as he also wrote Seijun Suzuki's Branded To Kill, which explains completely why this film is as wonderfully insane as it is. Even in the late nineties, with the infamous Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evnagelion, and Rintaro’s equally infamous (but beautiful) adaptation of X, there were some startling visions made in anime, a lot of which are sadly lost by pandering to otaku and unerotic fanservice, but looking back at films like The Secret of Mamo, it shows just how much of an artform anime is while the creators of this animation were gleefully and willingly able to make things as demented as this Lupin film for hell of it. It feels less like the insidiously and dubious idea that the Japanese are inherently weird, like many Westerners paint the culture as, but that their pop culture creators, like Soji Yoshikawa, are given free rein to indulge in whatever ideas they want, far more so than in the West, as long as it can be marketed to an audience in some way.’

15th December 2012: Bodycount aka. Camping del terrore (Ruggero Deodato, 1986)

A bodybuilder, a junk-food addict and a wild blonde nymph and their friends are stalked by a terrifying figure. An horrific tale of murder as a fun-loving group of college students explore the Colorado wilderness. (IMDB)

Not watched in the best version possible, but this is pretty much a slasher film at its most generic. Slasher films are one of my least favourite subgenres, but what annoys me with Bodycount is that it starts off as an interesting and amusingly cheesy movie, only to suddenly drop in quality half way through, where it seems to be procrastinating for no reason and not really making the repeated plotting from other slasher films interesting at all.

16th December 2012: La Pointe Courte (Agnes Varda, 1955)

There are two parts to this film: sequences of life in the fishing village of La Pointe Courte (a government inspector's visit, the death of a child) alternate with others following a couple - He is from La Pointe Courte, she is Parisian - coming to terms with their changing relationship.  (IMDB)

While I have seen only a few films by her, I can say nonetheless that Agnes Varda is one of best discoveries in terms of directors I never saw any films from before this year. Her debut is a little rawer and flawed compared to the other films I have seen, but it is still impressive. Split into two sides, the main one with the couple is a bit too arch in places, but is still striking, weaved into the other side of the film, an overview of a coastal community, to create a fascinating feature. Visually, La Pointe Courte is incredible in terms of camera work and how Varda shows the environment onscreen. I would recommend Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962) first for anyone who hasn’t seen a Varda film, but this is still a great work and an even better way to debut as a film director.

17th December 2012: Escape From The Bronx (Enzo G. Castellari, 1983)

A ragtag group of people have to fight extermination squads amid their ruined city. (IMDB)

I didn’t put a review up on Castellari’s 1990, The Bronx Warriors, although one by me can be found here as well - - but both of the films are very solid, underrated Italian genre films for what they are. Yes they are trashy, fitting considering the main character for both is called Trash, ridiculous, and a filtering of American films blatantly put together, but like great Italian exploitation cinema, or any country’s genre cinema that borrows ideas from popular Hollywood films, there is a love and desire from those who make the films, if just the director, to make something for an audience to enjoy and to try to be as creative with the material as possible. The first film was great in terms of its look and the world it depicted, but Escape From The Bronx improves on the biggest issue from the film that, for a director loved for his action scenes, it felt lacking in the area. Escape From The Bronx more than compensates for this, while continuing the lovably cheesy charm of the first film, and is very well directed and made too like the prequel. Also having Henry Silva as villain who, despite being one dimensional, still has moments in the spotlight to be charismatic in his evilness adds to the film too, especially when you consider that many potentially great genre films just get slapdashidly put together.

18th December 2012: Street Law (Enzo G. Castellari, 1974)

Carlo Antonelli, an engineer from Genoa, gets mugged and decides to take justice into his own hands. At first the muggers seem to get the upper hand, but then he's helped by Tommy, a young robber who takes his side. (IMDB)

More love for Castellari from myself, delving into my second poliziotteschi film; I have only started to watch his films in succession within this month, but I am probably going to put him on the list of underrated directors I properly delved into this year. The version I saw of this film was an abomination - a ripped from videotape release from a Z-grade DVD company, bizarrely renamed Revenge and with a print that, while acceptable within this situation until I can get hold of the American disc, had night scenes that were completely drowned out by the colour blue - but the film still shined despite this problem. It is a simplistic, B-movie crime film, intentionally pulpy in content, but it’s very well made, distinct and moody with its psychedelic rock score that intercuts between scenes and put together greatly by Castellari. It could be dismissed as a simplistic vigilante film but the film’s ace in its sleeve is that, within its B-movie plot, it still scrutinises the idea of vigilantism, despite its plot, by showing it to be a morally grey concept and by having a protagonist whose physical vulnerability is as large as his courage. Whether he dubbed his own voice in the English or not, Franco Nero is such a distinct personality, finally seeing him in a lead role, with his piercing blue eyes and battered face, and in how he moves and gestures in each scene. That the character is such a vulnerable individual even in the final act, helped greatly by Nero’s physical performance, is such a virtue for the film.

* I realise that the late Satoshi Kon and an occasional experimental work like Cat Soup (2001) shows that experimentation in anime can still happen and be a breath of fresh air, but these films to my knowledge have the fan bases they deserve that praise them whenever they can (including myself). Then there are a lot of films and works, such as Studio Ghibli films, that I’ve yet to see and need to create an opinion on.“Mainstream” anime is pretty diabolical however in how bland and uncreative looking most of the content looks and turns out to be, making the rare work like Redline so desperately needed.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

You Better Watch Out [Christmas Evil (1980)]


Dir. Lewis Jackson

The following is a link to my second Christmas film review for Videotape Swapshop, the underappreciated, but recently reappraised, genre film Christmas Evil.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Making Christmas. Making Christmas... [The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)]


Dir. Henry Selick

For this Christmas, I wrote reviews for two macabre festive films for the season for Videotape Swapshop. Both of them are far, far better than most Christmas films that actually exist. For the first, I present to you the Tim Burton presented The Nightmare Before Christmas.

It won't be the nicotine that kills you, Mr. Bond. [You Only Live Twice (1967)]


Dir. Lewis Gilbert

United Kingdom

The following review is the final of mine for The Bond Season on the Videotape Swapshop website. To finish the season off, why not review an actual James Bond film?

They got tons of popcorn there... [Strike Commando (1987)]


Dir. Bruno Mattei

First I will make the confession that, when dealing with a film that capitalised on the Rambo series, I have only seen Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985). I liked it on the first viewing, the politics of the film making it fascinating to scrutinise as well, but on the second viewing it was a drudge to sit through. It felt like a slog, and to be frank, for all its explosions and helicopters, I was bored seeing the same Vietcong being killed on mass in front of the same green trees and rocky waterfalls. In terms of Vietnam genre cinema, and the macaroni combat sub-genre Bruno Mattei’s film is part of, Italian made war/WWII/Vietnam films, Strike Commando is sadly not the film that will win me over at the moment.

With his squadron destroyed by his own side, Sgt. Mike Ransom (Reb Brown) is a very angry man, only willing to locate a Russian operated camp in North Vietnam for the commander who had his men blown up if a Vietnamese village that rescued him is escorted to safety. As his mission continues however, Ransom will be pushed into becoming a one man army. The film, not helped by my complete disinterest in the repetitive jungle sequences, is a pretty bland action film. Mattei, despite the lower budget, still manages to make the film look quite good in terms of scope, but it also never rises about merely being a c-grade action film with an occasional brightspot. That there are clear similarities to certain sequences from Rambo: First Blood Part II to this, despite the differences, makes this blandness worse, the repetition undermining Strike Commando as one could go and watch that film instead.

The only thing that interested me, bar Mattei’s obsession with characters shouting at each other at the top of their voices, is Reb Brown himself. When he’s able to say anything that is not grunted machismo or not directly inspired from Rambo, usually screamed at the top of his voice, I can understand why this is a cult hit amongst some people. The ‘Disneyland’ speech, which should be infamous in the macaroni combat genre, is the so-bad-its-amusing moment of the film, but the version of the movie I wish I saw only takes place with Brown’s final piece of dialogue before the end credits that breaks the fourth wall. The rest of the film, bar an occasionally amusing moment, is the kind of action film I am not that interested in, not ridiculous or gaudy enough, neither unique or spectacular to engage me. The film is just boring and a disappointing considering how large its reputation in certain cult film circles it is. At least with something like the American low budget film Deadly Prey (1987), while not being the best of films in existence, it riffs on the Rambo iconography to make something barmier as well as distinct.


Technical Work on The Site

Going into the New Year, with Christmas soon upon us, I decided to fix a few issues I had with the current look of my blog.

1) I have changed the subtitle/slogan of the blog under the blog name. I had changed it before slightly, but while I’ve had amusement with both versions, they’ve always felt a little pretentious for me. The newer subtitle feels far more truthful and bluntly poetic for my philosophy for the blog, which will be continued with point 3) for these notes.

2) I’ve deleted film titles from the Site Topics section on the right hand side of the page. I felt that the label needed to be cleaned up to be more useable for readers to search through previous posts. My desire to turn this section that appears on each page into a growing and eclectic encyclopaedia of reviews is what I’m striving for while making it practical to actually use.

3) Keeping with the subtitle of ‘Anything will be reviewed’ my New Year’s goal for the blog itself is to follow this phrase fully. The starting of a continuous series of posts called This Week... helps with this, but I want the main reviews to be as diverse as possible, even if it means having to review more disappointing and bad films too. There will be no restrictions to what I will review, so any film (or short, mini-series etc.) is fair game to choose.

This post is to pull back the curtains for anyone who is interested, as I feel I should be open about even the smallest of changes on the site, and hopefully this information will be of some use for regular readers. If there is anything you would like to suggest as well, please leave any thoughts in the comment box below. Anything suggested will be looked at carefully with consideration...even any that call me a dope for worrying about having comments in the first place and inflating my own ego by posting this piece up.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

The Man In Black [Danger: Diabolik (1968)]


Dir. Mario Bava

The following review is the second of mine for The Bond Season on the Videotape Swapshop website. Following on from Golgo 13, this is another comic book character famous in his home country that got his spot in the sunlight for the season.

Film Link -

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Pull my trigger lovingly... [The Professional Golgo 13 (1983)]


Dir. Osamu Dezaki

The following review is part of The Bond Season on the Videotape Swapshop website, part of a series dedicated to films inspired by, ripping off, or within the same Sixties attitudes of the James Bond series (including an actual Bond film amongst the reviews). This review is for the sole feature length adaptation of one of Japan’s longest running manga series Golgo 13, loved by Japanese salarymen and, while directly inspired by Bond, the more cold blooded of the two.

This Week...#5 (8th December to 11th December 2012)


8th December 2012: Outside In (Stephen Dwoskin, 1981)

"This is probably a good time to mention Dwoskin's use of comedy: Outside In is a film that deals with disability but is also funny and even burlesque. Of course, only the disabled can use this mode to stage themselves as disabled characters. Bergson states not only that "a deformity thay may become comic is a deformity that a normally built person, could succesfully imitate." (Michel Barthelemy)

Going through many of Dwoskin’s feature and short length films within such close proximity to each other, I admit that my thoughts on them have varied as much the height of a rollercoaster fluxuates as it goes on in size. I will confess, with some guilt considering how personal they clearly were to the late director, that the autobiographic works were usually the least interesting. Outside In is the exception.

Effectively a series of sequences, comedic skits, visuals pieces and situations about how Dwoskin viewed living with the disability that left him in crutches or a wheelchair for his whole life, the film for the most part is consistently interesting, going from the hilarious to the serious, erotic to the abstract. Dwoskin’s frankness with his disability, where even letting a person pass him in a row of cinema seats in cumbersome, is refreshing as he had no cap to his thoughts on his condition and portrayed the situation in a variety of ways. Also unlike some of his other, least effective work, he made each sequence and piece stand out to emphasise the content of them; his use of repetition is the most effective example of this, especially with a piece where a maid cleaning Dwoskin’s rented room transitions from a stranger to having a physical relationship with him through a repeated interaction. When Dwoskin was this rigorous, from what I have seen in the last few months, it was considerably impressive as was the case with Outside In.

9th December 2012: Mazes and Monsters (Steven Hilliard Stern, 1982)

Bound together by a desire to play "Mazes and Monsters," Robbie and his four college classmates decide to move the board game into the local legendary cavern. Robbie starts having visions for real, and the line between reality and fantasy fuse into a harrowing adventure. (IMDB)

Oh lordy, finally seeing this infamous film was grown inducing. It is far less the moral panic film about Dungeons and Dragons, and its ability to corrupt the youth of time, that I thought it would be, its drama softening the blow, but it’s still clear why it is the butt of jokes from actual Dungeons and Dragons fans. The problem is not necessarily the content itself but that it is all the worst tropes of a TV movie together. I hate the stereotypical TV movie in all it meaning – bland visual look, eye rolling moral messages or arch drama, fades to commercial breaks – and with the great exception of Salem’s Lot (1979), every film I have seen made for television was tedious or monstrously bland. This film deserves credit of Tom Hank’s first starring role, which he does try his hardest to flesh out, but his performance is sat within a really vacuous and, for fantasy gaming fans, insulting drama whose saccharine ballad sonically sums up its vast failings,

10th December 2012: The Night Child (Massimo Dallamano, 1975)

When a documentarian delves into the dark world of satanic art for a new film, he unearths a disturbing painting that leads him into a world of post-Exorcist Italo-Horror where cursed medallions, possessed children and the overwhelming power of the dark lord converge to create a visually stunning and wildly eccentric exploitation classic from Massimo Dallamano (Venus in Furs, What Have You Done With Solange?) (Arrow Film)

The Night Child begins for half of its running time setting itself up but once its slow pace starts to quicken in terms of the narrative, it becomes a good Italian gothic horror film, far from being a mere rip-off of The Exorcist (1973) it may look like on the surface. Continuing on from Dallamano’s Super Bitch (1973), it is a beautiful looking, atmospherically rich film that, like the film I will be writing about in a second, in is far better in quality because of this rather than having numerous scenes of gore.

11th December 2012: Who Saw Her Die? (Aldo Lado, 1972)

A young girl is brutally murdered somewhere in France. Sometime later, the same thing happens to the daughter of a well-known sculptor. This time the parents (the sculptor and his wife) start investigating, and soon find they are in way over their head. Meanwhile, the body-count keeps rising as the killer now starts butchering all those who find out too much... (IMDB)

As said above, atmosphere and mood is far superior for me in my horror films than high body counts, which is apparent in this great giallo film. It is still pretty gristly though in terms of its story and its scenes of murder that, while not as bloody as other gialli I have seen, still cause one to cringe, matched by a plot that despite being convoluted at the end still entices with the clues it gives you like narrative breadcrumbs. The film is enhanced further by the evocative cinematography by Franco Di Giacomo which makes the Venice locations both luscious and oppressive in how the characters interact within them. Also worthy of mention is child actress Nicoletta Elmi who, by complete chance by me in watching these films one after another, appears in both this and in a main role in The Night Child. Her filmography is slight, but is full of very well known (and/or great) films that make her pretty significant within Italian genre cinema of the 1970s. 

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Cowboy Rock [Zachariah (1971)]


Dir. George Englund

It was this exact DVD, which is the first image for this review, that enticed me to Zachariah in a second hand DVD store, an odd looking spine in the Z section that lead to a fascinating cover, a brilliant one, and the promise of ‘the first and only Electric Western’ in the back cover blurb. The subversion of the Western, the archetype genre of American cinema, is an obvious concept to do. In American B-cinema itself it was subverted with films such as Johnny Guitar (1954). Many other countries, especially Italy, made their own, and numerous revivals and twists to the genre had been done up to the current decade. It seems obvious that, on the cusp of the Seventies when alternative culture was ripe for film, that something like Zachariah was made, combining rock music with the genre.


When he acquires a gun, young Zachariah (John Rubinstein) in tow with his friend Matthew (Don Johnson) becomes a gunfighter, first encountering the incompetent but musically talented bandits The Crackers (the band Country Joe & The Fish) before continuing on in a journey of self discovery including notorious gunfighter Joe Cain (Elvin Jones) and dancer Belle Starr (Patricia Quinn). As they continue though, Zachariah and Matthew start to drift apart. With an opening image of a horseback rider travelling through a barren landscape, accompanied by an electric guitar riff, the film starts off swimmingly. A blasphemous juxtaposition to the traditional, John Ford-lead western yes, but with an awkward combination of full drum kits and guitars in a traditional frontier western setting, this is far from a conventional piece within the genre, trying to meld both sides together. It has the look of a traditional Western, closer to the classic American ones of the 1950s than something from the same decade it was made in like El Topo (1970), but with rock music and groupies of the period as well as the attitudes of this era. When Zachariah goes to a border town to Mexico, the film is almost about to hit its stride, its colourful, flat dimensional architecture for the outdoor and interior scenes gingerly toddling towards a Ken Russell film but with less confidence and a lower budget.


The film has the materials to be great, Rubinstein and Johnson generally likeable in their roles, while the late drummer for jazz musician John Coltrane Elvin Jones makes a formidable gunfighter who gets a chance to show his impressive skill with a drum kit as well in one scene. There is a great choice of music and musical acts scoring the film that push the film over to a musical as well as a western even if no one suddenly bursts into song mid-dialogue. Only an attempt to combine Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture with rock guitars fails, potentially kitsch in its most awful form, but something that could have been impressive if it wasn’t half heartedly attempted when scored over an attempted wagon robbery. The film sadly though feels incredibly convoluted, undermining its potential to be good. It is clear it is supposed to promote the bands and musicians involved – also including The James Gang and The New York Rock Experience – but the film comes to a screeching halt at many points when the musical numbers are played. The story itself goes in unnecessary and completely pointless directions, such as Patricia Quinn’s entire contribution to the film, and the true plotline of the film, of Zachariah and Matthew’s relationship being tested by the chance that one of them will shoot the other dead, is killed by a New Age message introduced in the last act that, while attempted in a subtle way, feels undercooked. Even the potential gay subtext to Zachariah and Matthew’s relationship, which would have been a great flourish for the film, is inadequately dealt with because of the pointless tangents. Sadly it is also another potentially great genre film failed by its director not allowing the locations around the characters to breath and flex on camera; baring some good moments, including those moments when it is about to become a Ken Russell made western, the closed-in use of the camera, fixed on the actors baring an occasionally establishing shot, kills the sense of grandeur an ‘Electric Western’ could have used to its advantage. This is worse when you consider how landscape and its character is one of the most significant aspects of the western genre.


There is a sense that, sadly, the cover and tagline promised a film that Zachariah is not, although this is probably what producer-director George Englund thought the words ‘Electric Western’ conjured. With a tagline like ‘A head of his time’ however, you are expecting a psychedelic western in what those two words mean. Zachariah could have been good on its own terms regardless of this, but excluding the music, it feels far too mellow for a film which combines two things, rock music and the western, that could be perfect fellows for their hardened, world weary tones and complete lack of compromise.


Saturday, 8 December 2012

This Week...#4 (5th December to 7th December 2012)


5th December 2012: Sherlock Holmes and The Spider Woman (Roy William Neill, 1944)

Sherlock Holmes investigates a series of so-called "pajama suicides". He knows the female villain behind them is as cunning as Moriarty and as venomous as a spider. (IMDB)

I’ve seen a couple of these now, and while they do not really stick in my mind, I wouldn’t mind seeing all the films in this 40s series of short length adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes character. This film feels weaker than the others, its mixing of different stories and plot twists creating a sense of ridiculousness to the film, but at the same making it feel erratic in nature and liable to fall into drops in quality during certain scenes. Basil Rathbone as Holmes does a tremendous job even in this film, and I can’t help but think there will be people out there who (understandably) view him as the best actor who played this character. I cannot say the same for Nigel Bruce as Doctor Watson, in all the films I’ve seen hung out to dry by a really irritating decision to make the character a bumbling old man; he gets a moment to help Holmes in this film thankfully, but it really comes off as a terrible idea for portraying this very famous literary character, especially when the jokes fall flat most of the time.


6th December 2012: Film Socialisme (Jean-Luc Godard, 2010) & Film Socialisme (Jean-Luc Godard, 2010)

A symphony in three movements. Things such as a Mediterranean cruise, numerous conversations, in numerous languages, between the passengers, almost all of whom are on holiday... Our Europe. At night, a sister and her younger brother have summoned their parents to appear before the court of their childhood. The children demand serious explanations of the themes of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Our humanities. Visits to six sites of true or false myths: Egypt, Palestine, Odessa, Hellas, Naples and Barcelona. (IMDB)

What does it mean, what does it mean? What I had to learn, so I could go from viewing Godard as an overrated director to a great one I admire, is that he is probably one of the greatest practitioners of improvisation in filmmaking and that, especially in his later years after Week End (1967), the sense of being overwhelmed  by his work is clearly on purpose, where even what you think is a problem with the actual DVD is actually Godard playing with the audio and pace of the film to pull you out of your comfort zone and make the disparity noticeable. First segment of the film is quite obvious in theme, Europe represented by a cruise ship where nothing has been learnt from an entire century of war, where a casino can look like a church and, thanks to a rough camera phone recording, a disco sounds like a bombing raid is taking place. The third part (possibly a fourth within it too) is continuing his essay work with Historie(s) du Cinema but tackling on global issues such as the state of Greece fully, and emphasising the idea, as in all the parts of the film, of how it’s up to the youth of the current era to improve the world around them. The second half is a bit more difficult to fully grasp as it continues Godard’s habit of not sign-posting clear ideas in his dramas and forcing the viewer to think for themselves. Even without the infamous Navajo English subtitles, where he only keeps choices words and makes them almost into abstract poetry, and viewed with a full translation of the dialogue, his mix of musings coming from the characters mouths actually can hide and distract the viewer from thinking of the ideas clearly hidden underneath the dialogue. It is a very free flowing film, certainly not for everyone, but one wonders if some critics, especially British critic Mark Kermode who viewed it as the worst thing at that year’s Cannes Film Festival in 2010, were actually willing to be patient with the film before criticising it or, to be crass but blunt, couldn’t be arsed to do so going into that first premier of the film.

This criticism came apparent with the Navajo subtitles which got their infamy from the anger many English film critics threw at them, Kermode himself believing that Godard was purposely trying to alienate English speakers from the film. Godard has major issues with the dominance of the English language, if you research interviews and quotations of him online, but the Navajo subtitles are actually far more accessible, especially compared to the content of the film, than one would believe. Yes, large subplots and tangents of impossible to catch unless you are bilingual, but there are other moments where the connections and connotations I made with the words kept in the subtitles were the exact, if not close to the same, as that of the full translation of the dialogue and onscreen text, watching the Navajo English than full translated version of the film one after the other. A third hybrid of both versions would be interesting to see; the full translation of some parts of the film is incredibly useful, but the Navajo English subtitles are for the most part far superior. Godard effectively cuts out the incidental words needed to make up sentences, and some pointless pieces that do knock the film down a little in quality, and almost makes a rudimentary system to allow English speakers to watch foreign films into an elaborate E.E Cummings poem. This is the same with the film itself, the melding of various different styles of image – cameras on phones, video, the blisteringly, beautiful colours of an electronic paintbox effect, even YouTube with a hilarious joke about two cats seemingly being able to communicate –put into a vast collage with various choices of music with manipulation of both aspects throughout the running time. It does feel like the creation of a young, first time director, flawed but effortlessly creative and full of ideas of depth, which made by a veteran director in his eighties is an intellectual spectacle that is incredible to see.


7th December 2012: Mardi Gras Massacre (Jack Weis, 1978)

Police try to capture someone who is commiting ritual murders of women during Mardi Gras in New Orleans. (IMDB)

Pretty dreadful film from the Video Nasties list, its main problem is that it has a complete aversion to its killer plot. Instead it pads out its own length with a subplot between the main cop character and a prostitute that never goes anywhere, and long drawn out scenes around the locations or dialogue exposition that means very little to what you watch. It could have worked in an anti-narrative sort of way unintentionally, if it wasn’t for the fact that you can feel that few people in front of or behind the camera have any idea how to push the film onwards. One person who thankfully did get some inkling of what he should do is William Metzo as John the killer. It’s not just that he goes into bars asking what women are ‘evil’ or pronounces even his orders to a Chinese takeaway on the phone in a sinister voice, but that as the following dialogue is spoken he also includes an elaborately long pause involving a head moment to the right of the screen....

This is 6-20 Madison Street, apartment four. I would like you to deliver an order of shrimp rolls, lobster Cantonese, Char Siu Din.................... [Long Pause to look off screen]....................and a fortune cookie.”

This is also one of those films that no matter how tedious it can get it is partly saved by having a legitimately great soundtrack of disco and funk music, cutting through the tedium of certain scenes including those Metzo isn’t involved in.

Friday, 7 December 2012

…fear of hamburgers and gardeners…’ [A Cat In The Brain (1990)]


Dir. Lucio Fulci
Film #12, of Friday 12th October, for Halloween 31 For 31

After a long delay, I can finally add the twelfth review from the Halloween 31 For 31 project from October. Thank you for your patience for this review.