Thursday, March 03, 2011

Sorry to say I watched a lot of films last month:

  1. The Adventure of Faustus Bidgood (1986) - a real odd one. Shot in 1976 but not 'ready for release' (whatever that means*) for another 10 years, the film takes place during the course of one day in the life of Faustus Bidgood, with a history of mental health problems and a Billy Liar like imagination, he works as a minor bureaucrat in the Newfoundland Department of Education. Lots of things are happening on this day. The final preparations for the annual charity concert in aid of crippled children are being made. The premier of Newfoundland has gone missing (again) leaving behind him cryptic clues - TV viewers are asked to help in the manhunt and could win a waffle iron if they come up with the solution as to his whereabouts. There is a child serial killer on the loose and the local TV's top children's entertainer, who dresses as a giant chicken, has resigned his job and gone on a three bottle bender while still in costume. One of Faustus' co-workers is pregnant but the father of the child is in doubt and Faustus' boss has a messianic dream of the future of education based on a vision he had when he saw his friend killed by a plummeting bag of frozen soup.

    Faustus, accompanied by his childhood imaginary friend, tries to hide from all this chaos by living in an alternate fantasy reality where they staged a coup, declared Newfoundland to be an independent state, and he became president promising to resign after one year but, as president, he has a decision to make and keeps having a recurring dream that he is in fact a lowly filing clerk. There are flashbacks from at least two different characters. The fantasy (or are they?) sequences are shot in grainy black and white, there is a film within a film which represents some of Faustus' memories as a documentary and then a film within that film which purports to be the first, never to be released, Newfoundland feature film ever shot. It sounds like an unholy mess and it almost is but, amazingly, all these strands (maybe with the exception of the film within the film within the film) neatly tie up at the end. I liked it.

    *Find out what 'that' means in an article from Cinema Canada - November 1986 here:

  2. Star Trek (2009) - Meh.

  3. The Jungle Book (1967) - Another Disney Friday night with the kids movie. Another very thin adaptation of a much loved book of my childhood. I do remember seeing this many many years ago in the cinema (I'm old enough to remember the days before the existence of museum pieces like VHS, Betamax, or even Laserdiscs) and hadn't seen it since. I was surprised at the amount of reused footage there was in it. Ka suffering the same fall from the same tree twice for example, and, as Daughter Number One pointed out, Bagheera climbs along the same tree branch several times - but then she has seen it four times.

  4. Fugitive Alien (1987) - My first incomprehensible Japanese TV show edited into a movie-length pudding of bewilderments of the year. And first decent sighting of a SpaceBimbo this year too.

    Space Barbie

    Fugitive Alien tells the story of Ken, a 'Space Wolf', a killer elite space pirate, who has a crisis of conscience when out raiding one day and instead of gunning down a little boy (who also happens to be called Ken), he accidentally kills his best friend and fellow space pirate. Now an outcast and a traitor, he is mercilessly and relentlessly hunted for a few minutes until he escapes and joins the Earth Space fleet. After a lot of bewildering hanging about waiting for the story to really start his ship is sent on a mission to help another planet (populated by Japanese extras wearing Arab headresses) who are threatened by an enemy with a weapon so powerful it could destroy their 'whole constellation' (sic and wtf?). The second half of the film consists of Ken breaking out of jail on the Planet of the Japanese Arabs and springing one of the enemy soldiers too. Just as they are about to blast off for what our occasional narrator has called 'Their most exciting mission yet' the words 'To be continued' appear on screen and the thing just stops. Arse! What I have just spent an hour and a half watching turns out to be half an incomprehensible Japanese TV show edited into a movie-length pudding of bewilderment. The sequel, Star Force: Fugitive Alien II, was, according to the IMDb, released in 1986 - the year before the original. I wouldn't be surprised if this was true.

    A standard tool used by American producers dubbing foreign SF films into English is to include quick, cheap to make, insert shots of hands flipping switches, and interesting dials with obvious English wording on them. I guess they would often be replacing shots of dials and switches with Cyrillic or Japanese writing next to them but sometimes I think they were just used to cover what would have otherwise been clumsy edits. The American producers weren't too bothered about where these shots came from - I remember one film where the inserts were probably shot in the dubbing studio as they recorded the new soundtrack; all the switches and dials in the spaceship were marked with things like 'Peak Wow' and 'decibels'. These shots were usually only a couple of seconds long, if that, but wherever the new inserts came from, the producers usually employed someone who could spell. Not here:

    and how this briefly flashed up computer screenful of delivery details from a Utah metal products company to 25 East Union Avenue, North Salt Lake helped to identify the fleet of hostiles just outside the good guys' spaceship window is a total mystery.

  5. Metropolis (1927) - I finally get to see what may well be the most complete, restored version of one of my long time favourite films (it is where my usual avatar comes from) - and I fall asleep.

  6. Marooned (1969) - Three astronauts are trapped in their Apollo capsule and NASA (or 'the NASA' as one character pedantically refers to it here) attempts to rescue them before their oxygen runs out in 42 hours. This is a long film (134 minutes) and sometimes it felt like the 42 hours was playing out in real time with most of the screen time taken up with people reading screeds of numbers at each other. For once though the techno-babble was convincingly real and occasionally the film works, it does build up tension and the brief moments when emotions break through all the cold equations are more powerful because of it; Gene Hackman is particularly good as one of the doomed crew. I was less convinced by the ending which had a Russian spaceship turn up out of nowhere and one of the astronauts doing a Captain Oates but taking a third of their dwindling supply of oxygen with them. Not sure I followed the logic of that. I could have done with a bit more exposition in places.

  7. Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds (1989) - Alex Proyas' first feature. An odd slow very low budget three hander. In a post apocalyptic future (fingerless gloves? check!) a brother and a sister live in a shack in the middle of a desert. He's in a wheelchair and dreams of flying, she's a religious bampot. One day a stranger arrives. The brother and the stranger build a flying machine and the stranger flies away. Some terrific visuals - even on the panned and scanned downloaded version I saw - more than made up for deficiencies in story and acting. Proyas' next film was The Crow.

  8. MirrorMask (2005) - another début feature with stunning visuals. I loved it so did the kids. One of those films where all CGI stuff serves the story (or possibly was the story) rather than being added for sheer gosh-wowery.

  9. Murder Party (2007) - I'm not a great modern horror fan so why I was watching a movie with someone holding two chainsaws on the front cover I'm not quite sure. Murder Party is a low/no budget horror/comedy that is almost funny in places. The plot is simple: a traffic warden finds an invitation to a Hallowe'en 'Murder Party' and decides to go. As soon as he arrives he is pounced upon by all the other guests who turn out to be an art collective in need of a victim for an artwork. It's a neat reversal of the usual low/no budget horror formula (take a bunch of teenagers to a deserted place and kill them off one by one). Here we have one victim and lots of killers. Things start to go wrong for our hero's captors when one of them has an allergic reaction to the non-organic raisins in his pumpkin cake and dies. Over the course of the evening the other 'artists', and several bystanders get themselves bumped off, in a variety of gory ways leaving our hero to go home. It almost works.

  10. World Without End (1956) - another rewatch of an old favourite. Man's first manned mission to Mars (as always) goes horribly wrong and our gallant crew are hurled through time to a post-apoc world (this was the fifties so, damn!, no fingerless gloves) where brutish cave men rule the upper world and a dwindling scientific elite live below ground. The men of the future wear shiny futuristic caps and the women wear satin dresses with conical tits and hemlines that stop just below their bums. Our hero interlopers, with the aid of their standard issue handguns (so useful in a spaceship), and a home-made bazooka, fight off giant spiders, one-eyed mutant cavemen, and skulduggerous locals to save all the non-mutant cave men and get laid by the satin conical tit girls (though, this being the fifties, this last bit is only implied). If it wasn't so stodgily presented - for a lot of the time people stand in rows and take turns to tell each other stuff - this would be a real cracker.

  11. Star Trek TNG: The Best of Both Worlds (1990) - every now and then I like to torture myself with a Star Trek movie. I've no idea why; I know they're tedious predictable shit even before I open the box, and, unlike most bad movies which are all unpredictably bad in their own special ways, Star Trek movies are all bad in the same ways. All so formulaic, self-referential and uninvolving that it's like watching the furniture being rearranged in someone else's house. Every now and then your hosts will stop and ask, "What do you think?" and you just have to be honest and say you can't tell the difference from the last time they asked you - though you suspect they might have swapped the sofas around.

    The Enterprise

    Star Trek TNG: The Best of Both Worlds was even more shittierly predictable and tedious than usual because it turned out to be a 'made for TV movie' cobbled together out of two regular episodes. (That'll teach me to read the small print a little more closely in future.) In this one the Enterprise meets the Borg again and Jean Luc P is captured and Borgified and everyone gets to recalibrate everything from the warp containment core to the kitchen toaster, and Jonathan Frakes (Ryker) gets more slow dolly shots moving in on him looking stern and decisive than any man in the history of episodic TV. And as most of these shots were done from a low angle to make him look heroic, we spent an awful lot of the 'movie's' running time staring up his nostrils. At least it made a change from watching him looking smug which is Frakes' other stock in trade pose.

    At one point Patrick Stewart made a weird noise just before he spoke a line which had all the hallmarks of a bit of real acting escaping onto the screen. It was very lonely.

  12. Lifeforce (1985) - The first manned mission to Haley's comet finds an derelict space ship. Now anyone who has ever seen ANY movies knows that entering derelict spaceships is just asking for trouble. Unfortunately our valiant crew have spent so long training to be astronauts they never watched anything other than training videos and happily go exploring. Inside they encounter a bunch of dead aliens and three perfectly preserved nude humans in suspended animation. The female of the three probably has the most beautiful tits seen on any screen during the eighties. Hypnotised by naked knockers (as most men are) the crew drag the bodies on board and head back for Earth and the plot goes into out of control free-fall with the movie ending up with rampaging alien vampire zombies destroying London, (I think they were covering all the bases when they pitched this one:

    Writer: "It's a vampire flick, with zombies! - and aliens...
    ...and tits!"

    Producer: "I like it!"

    All Hail the Hypno-boobs!

    This film has a real reputation for being awful and I was surprised to find the the opening sequences weren't that bad, but it didn't take long to descend into totally confused garbage. Towards the end I gave up trying to follow what was going on - though actors kept telling me at great length - and just felt sorry for Peter Firth (who probably thought this was going to be his big Hollywood break)as he wandered about in a polo-neck jumper trying to be the hero but being confounded at every turn by the incoherent script.

    The first feature film to use Brent Cross Shopping Centre as a location and the second film I've watched in a row to feature Patrick Stewart being subsumed by an alien lifeform. He explodes in this one.

  13. The Girl Cut in Two (La fille coupée en deux 2007) - by total coincidence Mathilda May, the naked hypno-boob girl of last night's film, was the first person on screen in The Girl Cut in Two. Inspired by the murder of Stanford White in 1906 the film tells the story of a TV weather girl torn between two lovers. A rich successful older novelist and a wealthy, but unbalanced playboy. The film asks us to believe that both men already detest each other - for reasons that are never really specified - and both of them instantly fall in love with the same girl within one day. She falls in love with one, marries the other - lots of post coital conversations, lots of people sitting round eating expensive meals and a hurried, patched together, scrappy ending that looks like it had been nailed into the script to stop the film going on for another couple of hours. I didn't believe a single frame of the whole damn thing.

  14. Dream Warrior (2003) - a cinematic version of one of those bad self published novels which starts with enough backstory flashback voice-over intro to make you think you are watching a sequel (it isn't) and then just wanders around aimlessly wasting so much time you wonder why they didn't just include all that backstory in the main narrative and cut out all the waffle. A genuinely incompetent mess with a director who does amazingly inept things like using a point of view shot [handheld camera keeks round a pillar at two guards], then showing a wide of the actor whose point of view we are supposed to have experienced getting into position to see what we have just seen him see [sneak sneak up to the pillar then keek around it], then show us again what we have seen he has just seen now that he is finally in a position to see it. THEN - having established that handheld camera keeking round a pillar is a point of view shot - shows us the hero sneaking around in a series of handheld keeking round pillar shots without once hinting that there is anyone else around to be having these point of views of the hero. Garbage direction. Other highlights included Isaac Hayes being mystical in a purple burnoose:


    Sometimes dreams are the only
    thing worth having!


    What are you talking about*?

    And, just to keep with self-published vibe, at least one typo in the credits; apparently there was someone responsible for 'UK Catsing'.

    I really hope I don't see anything quite so dreadful as this for the rest of the year.

    * Edit: I just realised this is even funnier if you do it in Cartman's voice.

  15. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) - Okay, I was wrong. For years I've had this down in my head as one of those annoyingly overly cutesy films I never wanted to see again. Watching it tonight with the kids I was pleasantly surprised at how funny it was - once I had got over the semi-Americanisation. (Still hate the fucking songs though.) The kids were enraptured by it. Afterwards number one daughter wanted to find the book to see how Veruca Salt met her fate in the original because it was different here to the Tim Burton version; geese instead of squirrels. (It was squirrels in the book.) She also thought the TV room sequence was better here, though she didn't explain why.

  16. Timecode (2000) - another coincidence-driven rewatch. While sorting through some boxes of VHS tapes, consigning the ones I now have on DVD to the charity shop pile, I found a tape with a couple of editions of Moving Pictures which was, by far, the BBC's best ever TV program about films and film making. I watched a chunk, including the Mike Figgis interview mentioned on the Wikipedia page I just linked to, then I started on the next box. First tape that my hand touched? Mike Figgis' Timecode. So I had to watch it.

    I remember being bowled over by it but this time I got really frustrated. Since first watching it I had read an interview with Figgis in which he talked about this film. Timecode was shot simultaneously on four cameras, the whole film consists of one continuous take from each of the cameras presented on a split screen like this... which you have Salma Hayek, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Kyle MacLachlan, Stellan Skarsgård, Saffron Burrows all on screen, all acting at the same time in different locations. As the film progresses characters meet each other, cross from one strand of the story to another and from one corner of the screen to another - sometimes appearing in two or more quarters simultaneously from different angles. It is, as you may imagine very complex, and at times difficult to follow. In the interview Figgis said that he nudged the audience into watching particular parts of the screen with the sound. He mixed up the sound from the quarter/s he wanted the audience to concentrate on and faded out that from where he didn't. Simple and obvious enough, but I didn't know that the first time I saw it. This time, with that knowledge in my head, I was constantly fighting being pushed from one corner of the screen to another and desperately trying to make out conversations that were almost inaudible. I may investigate any available DVDs to see if there is one with an option to isolate the soundtracks - or even mix your own on the fly; that would be fun.

  17. Ripley's Game (2002) - I never really understood the attraction of the Ripley character. I have tried to read a couple of the books and didn't get very far with either. Anthony Minghella's 1999 The Talented Mr Ripley Amazingly was, I thought, an interesting enough film but even though it charted the 'creation' of Ripley I still didn't understand him. As soon as John Malkovich appeared on screen in Ripley's Game I got it. Amazingly this went straight to DVD/Video in the States.

  18. Jack the Ripper (1976) - very odd little Swiss/German take on the Jack the Ripper story which, apart from a couple of library establishing shots (one anachronistically putting the wrong queen on the throne), was shot entirely in Germany and looks it. Everything was just wrong. The architecture in particular and the furniture It all looked very un English. I suppose Germans get the same feeling of wrongness about Epping Forest standing in for Frankenstein country in all those Hammer films. Klaus Kinski did his usual going bonkers stuff - which is always fun - as the mad doctor / Jack the Ripper and got caught in the end - which added to the wrongness levels. Another Jess Franco film under my belt. Only another 148 or so to go.

  19. Planet of the Apes (1967) - the superior original. I had forgotten how fantastic the score was. And so little of it too, very spare; unlike most Hollywood soundtracks these days. Jerry Goldsmith knew when to shut up and let the pictures do the work.

  20. Ritana (aka Returner 2002) - Japan. A lone vigilante in the standard-issue, post Matrix, full-length leather coat shoots endless supplies of Ninja Yakuza, and helps a time-travelling cute girl rescue an alien (thus saving the world from the total pasting, end of human life, alien invasion which the girl has come back in time to prevent). Lots of explosions, lots of dodging slow-mo bullets while leaping 20 feet in the air shooting two hand guns in opposite directions mid somersault, lots of running around walkways and ducking behind pipes in an empty industrial site, not a lot of plot. Certainly nothing that hasn't been done a million times before in short stories, movies, TV shows, and comic books. Anime made flesh.

  21. Survival Zone (1983) - Raking through the back room of one of the local charity shops today (I'm such a regular I get privileges) I hit bigbox VHS paydirt. A whole pile of cruddy films in crappy 1980s bigbox cases. First into the player tonight was this dreadful, post-apocalyptic piece of poo. After a voice-over telling us that the Neutron bomb war of 1987 has wiped out nearly all animal life on Earth, we find ourselves in South Africa. We meet a bunch of bestial, leather clad bikers who watch two of their number fight and then appear to eat the looser... we meet three nuns looking after a couple of orphans in a deserted mission... we meet handsome hunk who has just buried his mother and sets off in his Land Rover to see if there is anyone else alive... we meet a happy nuclear family living on a farm. That's about all you need to know really, it's standard western plot number 37b. Indians on the warpath, lone stranger, happy sheep farmers wanting no trouble. Exactly the same. Except with nun-eating involved."

    "For those who are about to eat us
    make us truly grateful, amen."

    So, still peckish after the nuns, the bikers attack the farm. The hunk arrives and we find he is called Adam Strong (no kidding) and the farm is called 'Eden farm' (could this be symbolic? or just bollocks?), farmer and family kill all the indians - sorry evil, nun-chomping bikers. Adam kills the head biker by whacking his head off with a spade. The End. Incidentally the head biker is the only one of the horde to speak. At one point while he is haranguing his troops and dumping backstory (they had all escaped from jail - presumably jails are neutron bombproof in South Africa) he actually says: "I warned you not to drink that contaminated water, now you are all mute!" A brilliant line which saved the writers from having to write any bestial dialogue for the cannibal bikers ("Pass the ketchup please."?) and the producers from having to pay actors to deliver them. This might all sound vaguely entertaining but it's so laboriously overwritten (apart from the bikers); everyone who does speak gets to deliver screeds of repetitive, aimless dialogue that does nothing to advance the plot and then goes round the block and does it all again just in case we missed any of it. There are whole scenes of endless pointlessness that are just baffling in their utter pointlessnessnocity. In an early one we watch Adam playing solo pool in an abandoned pub for a while till he gets bored and wanders upstairs into a room, he looks about a bit, turns on the shower - aha! water! - he decides to stay SUDDEN CUT AWAY TO SOMETHING ELSE TO FILL A GAP! and then he's asleep in bed. Something creaks. Something moves! A mirror cracks. He leaps out of bed. Suddenly there is full-on poltergeist activity going on all around him! He runs out of the hotel... meanwhile somewhere else...

    What had the sudden onset of poltergeist activity got to do with anything else in the movie? Sod all.

    There's a lot of SUDDEN CUTTING AWAY TO SOMETHING ELSE TO FILL A GAP! in this movie - usually accompanied by loud music to make it really obvious. (I think the sound editor hated the director's guts. "Look!" he seems to say, "The bastard fucked up again and had to SUDDENLY CUT AWAY TO SOMETHING ELSE TO FILL A GAP!") My favourite one came when we watch our hero setting a trap that involved some of the heavily foreshadowed dynamite he just happens to have around the farm. It's dark, he's in the cellar, there are nunaphagic bikers all around, he sneaks up a three step stepladder to do something trappy with some string and a nail, first step, second step SUDDEN CUT AWAY TO THE MOON IN A CLOUDY SKY! sneak back down the ladder, second step, first step... We have no idea what the hell he did up there - not that we are any wiser at the end of the movie either. Incredifuckingbly dreadful. I loved every second of it. (I forgot to check if there were any fingerless gloves in this one.)

  22. Steel Dawn (1987) - I feel sorry for those people who don't sit through the credits at the end of movies. Apart from the odd lollipop, (like the Tibetan monk gag at the end of the end credits for The Adventures of Prescilla Queen of the Desert), you do find the most glorious names lurking in them. Steel Dawn for instance had a stunt person called Panica Protopapa (only other IMDb listing is as an actor way down near the bottom of a Marjoe Gortner movie: American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt). Not as good a name as Yolanda Squatpump but then very few names are.

    Steel Dawn is the usual post-apocalyptic desert stuff (Fingerless gloves? Check!) A stranger with no name (in the cast list he is just called 'Nomad') arrives at the farm of a widow and her son just as they are having trouble with the local megalomaniac land baron who wants to run them off their land blah blah blah. Sounds like every third cowboy movie ever made after Shane except there aren't any guns and everyone is dressed in BDSM fetishist wet dream leather gear and has HUGE hair. (The villain wears something Tina Turner would have been proud of; it looks like a couple of electrified stoats glued to his head.)

    Ooh! Get me, I'm so evil...

    As there are no guns on show, people fight with swords. The end result is that the movie looks less like a Post Apoc Western and more like a Post-Apoc Samurai movie. In the first half hour we get to watch Patrick Swayze walk a lot. I remember thinking he wasn't as good as Toshiro Mifune. Now that man could walk.

  23. The Eye Creatures (1965) - Another of Larry Buchanan's fantastically dreadful TV remakes. This time Invasion of the Saucer Men gets the work-over. Aliens land but are defeated by middle aged teenagers shining their car headlights on them - eye monsters explode if you shine lights on them. Superbly dreadful with all the usual Larry Buchanan hallmarks of shoddiness: there are lots of over-long shots of people walking away from the camera and into a doorway. This is a classic Buchanan shot and quite often it signals the end of a scene. The scene often actually finished quite a while beforehand but Buchanan will usually wait till everyone has left the screen before he cuts to the next one. Not very good with transitions was Mr B. Not very good at anything really.

  24. Cargo (2010) - I was a little disappointed, after all the good reviews I have read of this, that it wasn't better. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't bad, but I had worked out the plot about five minutes in and after that it was just watching the dominoes topple. It looked great and the lack of gunplay was welcome but it did press several of my dumb SF buttons: things like the size of the ship (the Kassandra), which was full of huge spaces all full of air at a breathable pressure.

    "Captain, I think we got a stowaway."
    "Okay, put on your suits and vent the ship. Next problem please."

    And the big engines firing all the time for four years! They only cut out about 30 seconds before they reach their destination; at which point the ship just stops (once the engines stop pushing it). At some point this ship goes FLT. It has to. Rhea, its destination, is 'four years' away from Earth. Proxima Centuri is about 4.2 light-years from us. So even if Rhea is around our nearest neighbour - and the implication is that it isn't - then the Kassandra must have gone faster than light to get there in the time. As it was constantly accelerating, when it got to Station 42 (aka Matrix in Space) it would have been doing at least lightspeed and, according to Einstein, would have accumulated enough relativistic mass to destroy the whole bloody planet as it hit.

    As for the moment when our heroine jet packs straight into the open airlock of the moving spaceship at the end....

  25. Gay Niggers from Outer Space (1992)- probably the most crappily amateur film, with some of the worst production values and dialogue I have seen for years - but so stupid it was quite endearing and genuinely funny. (Very short too.)

  26. Flesh+Blood (1985) - Paul Verhoeven's first English language feature which owes more than a little to Kurosawa and was the third film I've watched this week that has nice Photoshop chrome gradient filled lettering on the video's cover. (Well, it's one way of choosing what to watch; next week I'll only watch videos that have skulls with glowing eyes on the front of the box.) You could tell this film had a bigger budget than the other two because the graphic designers knew how to adjust the settings and make the chrome effect a little more complex and subtle. Not sure what to make of the film. I was reminded at various times of Kurosawa's Ran, Poe's Masque of the Red Death and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Rutger Hauer did his usual sterling stuff and Jennifer Jason Lee was naked a lot. Either is a good enough reason to watch a film.

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