Wednesday, February 01, 2012

So it's February the first already. the time of year I usually give something up. Fuck New Year's resolutions I seem to make Februaryish resolutions. My liver has enjoyed 9 years to the day without having to cope with any alcohol and it's been two or three days off a whole year since my lungs have been hammered with cigarette smoke. You know (he said putting on his best Woody Allen voice) if it wasn't for the smack and the hookers I don't know what I'd do...

Baboom tish!

Right, what to give up this year? No idea. I know it's not going to be watching films. I love watching films. As habits go it's less expensive than most and a lot more fun than some. AT the moment I am still working my way through the 200+ VHS tapes I got given a few months ago. A randomly selected VHS inserted into the machine without looking at it and see where we end up. Great fun.

This year I will watch some good films... this year I will watch some good films... this year....

  1. Freeway II: Confessions of a Trickbaby (1999) - ...sometime this year. Freeway was a 1996 film starring Kiefer Sutherland and Reese Witherspoon and was, apparently, a 'twisted' modern day reworking the Little Red Riding Hood story. Freeway II: Confessions of a Trickbaby stars Natasha Lyonne (hubba hubba! - but I'm weird) and is a 'twisted' reworking of the Hansel and Gretel story that segues from genre to genre without stopping to think where it's going. It starts out as a Women in Prison film with nude shower scenes and communal vomiting, turns into a 'killers on the run road movie' with a lesbian serial killer, before our 'heroines' end up in the lair of a child porn making transvestite nun in Mexico and for a moment or two the film starts to look like it's going to turn into a gory cannibal slasher film but it just stops instead. Written down like that it looks a lot more interesting than it was. I only stuck with it because I was hoping Natasha Lyonne was going to get naked. She didn't. (Well, not much.)

  2. Shadow of the Vampire (2000) - Not bad little Vampire flick which plays with the silly notion that Max Schreck, the actor who played the vampire Count Orlok in Murnau's Nosferatu, was a real vampire playing an actor playing a vampire. Great cast headed by John Malkovich (who can do no wrong - apart from Mutant Chronicles), Willem Dafoe (who was Oscar nominated for this part), Udo Kier, and Cary Elwes (who are both favourites and both far funnier than you remember).

  3. Planet of the Apes ( 1968 ) Again. Watched, this time, with Number1 daughter (aged 9) - and, after successfully hiding the case from her, the Statue of Liberty shot came as a real shocker to her. Job done.

  4. Mary and Max (2009) - Australian claymation film about the long distance relationship between a young Australian girl and a middle-aged man from New York with Asberger's. Mrs JM was in tears at the end of it; I was bored rigid. Somewhere in there was a decent short but there wasn't enough to sustain a feature. Especially when 90% of the story was told through an omniscient third party voice-over narration. Anything with that much voice over starts to look like a radio play with pictures. As a comic book (sorry... graphic novel) it might have worked a lot better.

  5. Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) - not great, but bearable, sequel which had a wonderfully downbeat ending. Everyone dies. The highlight for me tonight, watching for the first time in wide-screen and a decent quality, was spotting a member of the camera crew's discarded paper cup blowing into shot about 15 minutes in. A previously unreported smirky little film nerd goof that I'm off to log at the IMDb. (I'm so pathetic sometimes but it amuses me.)

    Using Your Skill and Judgement...


  6. Escape From Planet of the Apes (1973) - confirming rule 7 of the Junk Monkey low budget film rule book: 'All time machines/travel in low budget movies take you to Los Angeles in the year the film was made - no matter how hard you try to make them go somewhere more interesting.' A not bad attempt at a Get Out of Jail Free card from the writer who blew up the whole planet - and by implication the entire population of the world at the end of the last movie.

    Apparently, while we weren't looking, two of the apes from the previous films, plus another we hadn't met before, somehow managed to salvage a sunken spaceship, worked out how to fly it and did just that minutes before the world exploded and the shockwave hurled them back through time. Some serious suspending of disbelief had to be done. Better directed than number two which had a real hurried look about it, with some of the blocking looking very underdeveloped and hamfisted. Though there was one moment in this one when a short pan to establish someone sat in a room was followed by a cut back to the starting point of the pan - which started again in the same direction but then turned into a dolly shot instead. That was clunky. Two of my favourite 70's actors Eric Braeden and Bradford Dillman did their usual sterling stuff in support.

  7. Some Like it Hot (1959) - Friday Night Film Club choice of Mrs. JM (one of her favourite films) First time up on the big screen for me. And again I was seeing the film as if it were new because of it. I was seeing Jack Lemmon do things that were new to me and for once I almost saw what people see in Marilyn Monroe. I've never understood what what all the fuss was about. Tonight I almost got it. Daughter Number 2 thought it was "Great" - she particularly loved the tango sequence.

  8. The Funeral (1996) - Dir. Abel Ferrera. (see, I'm getting to the 'good' films). Another random pick from the huge VHS pile to give me a rest from the Planet of the Apes boxset. The Funeral is a slow paced, layered, beautifully shot, wonderfully acted (brilliant cast) nicely dressed gangster piece that left me stone cold. I'm not particularly disposed to gangster films - modern ones anyway. I still haven't seen any of the Godfather films and don't feel deprived. The film had things to say, there were flashes of real truth in the script - most of which fell to Walken's character but I just wasn't made to be interested in hearing them. The structure wobbled all over the place. A lot of the story was told in flashback from various viewpoints but it was all so vague and unfocussed that I ended up not caring. (Apart from noting at one point that cinematic rarity and irrational pet hate of mine: a flashback within a flashback.)

    Off to the charity shop with it.

  9. House of America (1997) - Wales. Tom Jones. Coal mining. Depression. Getting pissed. Family secrets. Smashing up the pub toilets. Unemployed. Coal mining. Incest. Mam's in the loony bin, nice room she got though. Suicide. Coal mining. Murder. Did I miss anything? Story obvious from about three minutes in and money from the Arts Council of Wales. "Well, that Trainspotting made a lot of money last year so it's obvious the world is gaggin' for Celtic fringe post-industrial misery innit?"

    Based on one of those plays that gets public funding and is 'Important' and 'Says Something' and when it's translated into film looks exactly like a play that's been translated into a film. Yes, they may be standing in a field 'opening it out' but they're still talking stage dialogue, not film dialogue.

    Thinking about it for 24 hours (not exclusively) I suspect the film was supposed to be a heartfelt cry against the swamping of Welsh culture by the all pervasive influence of America. As the only evidence of Welsh culture shown here were a couple of brief sound-bites of Tom Jones' songs and shots of bunches of miners (still in helmets and blackface coaldust) getting pissed in the pub I can see why our protagonists got obsessed with Jack Kerouac and necking neat Jack Daniels. Beats the fuck out of Max Boyce and Brains SA.

    Can I go back to watching shit again? this arty crap is doing my head in.

  10. The Brothers O'Toole (1973) - I'll watch anything with John Astin in it. The man is a comedy hero. Here he plays two parts in what is a very dull shambles of a film. When he's not on screen the pace drops to a crawl and the script just flounders about not going anywhere in particular - very slowly - and then Astin is back on screen and it's a funny little film again. He manages to get even the flattest of dialogue to be far better than it has any right to be (I suspect he rewrote many of his own lines). Another £1 well wasted in Poundland

  11. Spawn (1997) - What. A. Piece. Of. Shit. Spawn is based on a comic book and looks it for every frame of it's running time. The lowest point for me was the moment when the demon, trying to bring an overly complex plan to start Armageddon to fruition, gloats over the recumbent body of his mortal minion evil, CIA-type chief played by Martin Sheen. At demon boy's suggestion Sheen's character has planted instant, total population of the world destroying, biological bombs all over the globe - and then left vital incriminating files on his desktop (like you do). He has also had a pacemaker type device fitted which will automatically set off the bombs if his heart stops beating. With me so far? Right. Demon boy spends most his very annoying screen time trying to manoeuvre dead, but bought back to life with superpowers, former hired killer Spawn into killing him. There is a climactic fight in a suburban house with Spawn's ex-wife and child used as pawns. Spawn can't bring himself to kill Sheen's character, because little Tammy will die too. Demon boy rants. "Then I will kill him and kickstart the apocalypse now!".* Martin Sheen had the good grace not to be in shot while this line was delivered. He may well not have been in the building - or even aware that it was in the script. I hope so.

    At least the villain wasn't played by a British actor. (Very hard to cast a Brit as head of the CIA I would imagine.) The only Brit I could see in the cast was Nicol Williamson who got stiffed with that other standby role for British Male actors of a certain age, The Elder Mentor part. (Alec Guinness in Star Wars, Sean Connery in Highlander etc.) Apart from standing about telling our 'Hero' to use his powers wisely, he also had to do tons of rapid back-story, and narrative hole filling, voice-over narration. He didn't make another film for 15 years; then died. The first-time director is now only allowed to make things like Garfield's Fun Fest ( Video 2008 ).

    *Geddit? Geddit? Do you geddit? Huh? Huh?

  12. The Wisdom of Crocodiles (1998) More late 20C Arts Council money poured into a film (I think it was trendy; 'Cool Britannia' and all that). This time they seem to have backed a vaguely commercial horse with Jude Law as an urban professional vampire and the always strange and watchable Elina Löwensohn as the woman he falls in love with. Not perfect but better than I was expecting after seeing the dreaded words 'Arts Council' in the credits.

    Someone called Hitler Wong played a character called Noodles Chan. It's his only film.

  13. The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1955) - Confusing and dull, low-budget radioactive undersea monster, and misguided scientist with beautiful(ish) daughter mess which racked up more shots of people putting on Scuba gear than an entire series of The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau and more crappy clichéd dialogue than normal. A lot of ouch! editing too, where vital shots had obviously not been done, and staging so clumsy it was wonderful. Ferinstance these two guys are supposed talking to each other: "Establishing shot please... let's see if we can do this in one..."

    "Great guys, we'll cut away to cover the fluffs. Now the close-ups, and talk fast, we're running out of film..."

    "Okay, that's a wrap, let's go get lunch."

    I've no idea what these two are looking at but it's not each other unless they are in parallel universes - which is possible as their shoulders would appear to be occupying the same physical space. Crappy film making. Love it.

  14. Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D (2011) - better than number 3! The kids loved it. I laughed aloud several times despite my better judgement. The only thing that really spoiled my reluctant enjoyment was my irrational hatred of Ricky Bloody Gervais whose smugness just annoys the tits off me. (Even when he's just doing a voice for a robot dog and doesn't thrust his very punchable, self-satisfied face at the camera.)

  15. The Shaolin Temple (1982) - another hour and a half of my life spent watching Chinese people whacking the shit out of each other. One of these days I'll actually work out if I enjoy these films or not. This one had some great scenery and a young Jet Li eating his girlfriend's pet dog, spit-roast over a fire. Yum yum.

  16. At Play in the Fields of the Lord (1991) - it's Jan the 16th and I may have just seen the best film of the year. I think.

  17. Convergence (1999) - Christopher Lloyd shambles around Seattle being world-weary while very low-budget, spooky stuff happens to a girl in his office. It starts off okay, nice little X-Filey, millennial weirdness vibe building up and then it just goes nowhere and flounders around and all the spooky just gets not very interesting and by the time it's finally over it has turned into a New Age mumbo-jumbofest about 'converging energy lines' and 'patterns' and 'destiny' and characters giving full ponderous weight to every word while saying tedious things like this to one another:
    Angst ridden protagonist dude:
    Why do I feel so empty inside;
    like I've been betrayed?

    Cafe owning mentor dude:

    Maybe, because, in some way, you have.
    Another dull waste of time and space.

  18. Private Parts (1997) - I knew nothing about Howard Stern before I saw this autobiopic. Doubt if I really know anything now. But I enjoyed it. Laughed a lot. Paul Giamatti was, as always, brilliant.

  19. Shark in a Bottle (2000) - A slacker, accident prone, postal worker, wanted for the possible slaughter of several co-workers, is forcibly recruited to work as a hit man. Shark in a Bottle is one of those films that really makes you think and ask it some fundamental questions. Questions like: Who the fuck thought this script was worth reading beyond page three let alone spending all the time and money and effort to shoot the bugger? Why does our 'hero' keep returning to his flat when he knows the 'bad' guys want to kill him (actually this one is pretty easy to answer: A. None of the neighbours ever complain about the powerful handguns being fired in it all day - someone did call the cops when he blew it up though. B. The budget didn't let him go anywhere else.) When are cheapo crappy film makers going to stop thinking "Hmmm. It looks like shit. I know! Let's pretend we're being mysterious by using some Angelo Badalamenti-like music over the really boring bits! You know, to give it a David Lynchy feel...". When is it going to end? Why is the remote control all the way over there? Was that supposed to be a twist ending? (Were we really supposed to forget about the dead hitman in the bathroom?) Is this supposed to be a comedy?

    One of the longest 94 minutes of my life. Dreadful.

  20. James and the Giant Peach (1996) - fun little family film which (as usual with films chosen by the kids) I enjoyed a lot more than I was expecting too.

  21. Hao xia (1979) aka Last Hurrah for Chivalry - more Chinese people wellying seven kinds of shit out of each other at the drop of a hat. This time John Woo was directing and some of the camera moves were far more complex than usual.

  22. Sketch Artist (1992) - an above average made for TV / Direct to LaserDisc crime noir. Not great but not bad. The obligatory sex scene was almost justifiable and for once looked like a couple having realistic, frantic, make-up sex, not indulging some bizarre choreographed gymnastic workout with lots of soft-focus, body doubles, and panning camera-work. It actually looked like two people fucking. I am so bored with rubbish sex scenes. I was watching one supposedly erotic scene the other week, with all the ritualistic back-arching, finger-licking, nipple-slurping, et al and I was spotting continuity errors - 'Oh, the bra strap's back up... now it's down... now it's up again...' I think I'm getting old.

  23. Heavenly Creatures (1994) - Early Peter Jackson. And interesting.

  24. Sanctuary ( 1998 ) - Straight to video Priest With a Past 'thriller' (he was a CIA hitman) which almost breaks new ground for me. The whole story is told within a framing device of 'our hero' being interviewed by dark figures. Cue title. '6 Days ago. Chicago... ' and the story proper starts to unfold in a flashback - except it doesn't because, almost as soon as we are settled into Chicago six days ago, we are soon kibitzing on a second layer of our hero's flashbacks. He starts off by taking us to 'Langley four years previously' and then hop skipping about his whole life from childhood onwards through years of rigorous training to be a government within a government sponsored assassin - before running away and becoming a priest. With me so far? Good. During one of these flashbacks - within a flashback - the younger child/hero/priest/assassin has a moment where, in soft memory-inducing focus, he has a reverie remembering his dead mother. For a moment there is a non-diegetic sound cue as he recalls the sound of her voice and for a second the film teetered on the edge of diving into a flashback - within a flashback - within a flashback! Heady stuff. I don't recall ever having been that close to a narrative chasm that deep before. The rest of it was shit. Pure unadulterated shit which alternated from confusing to boring and back again with without breaking stride. The bad guys hunt him down, lots of innocent people end up dead, the Priest starts killing people again without a shred of remorse and foils the evil plot to - er - do evil stuff. (What was the Evil Plot? I've forgotten.) Whatever. It also has one of the dumbest 'twist' let's-set-up-a-sequel endings: The hooded figures from the start of the film turn out to be a secret society of Papacy within a Papacy Catholic Priest Hitmen/Ninjas who want to recruit him.... oh God....

  25. The Big Swap ( 1998 ) - a group of friends, all of them irritating, smug, middle-class, professional wankers*, swap partners a couple of times and the wheels come off their semi-perfects lives.

    Whoop de do.

    A terribly wordy script full of place-holder dialogue like: "I thought we could try that new restaurant. You know, the one on the high street." delivered by far too many characters who are introduced en masse. We're given a voice-over guided tour of the whole cast in the first couple of minutes and after that we're on our own. Three minutes later the wheels are starting to come off relationships we know nothing about - and we're supposed to care? Oh come on!... it's hard to generate any sympathy for the simultaneous emotional problems of ten total strangers.

    One of the leads now writes for preschool CBeebies regular Chuggington.

    If the French had made this (even on this budget) it would have been sexy, elegant, sophisticated, and smart. (And the tits would have been less British too.) The French would have known how to make this film. (They should do, they've done it often enough.) But because it's British it's just awful. British Film just didn't know how to do sex.

    *I don't think I quite meant that to read like it does - nice work if you can get it though.

  26. Despicable Me (2010) - funnier than I remembered.

  27. The Mesa of Lost Women (1953) - Whenever you hear someone say "X is the worst film I've ever seen!" you can pretty much guarantee they have never sat through any number of truly dreadful films like: Egagh, The Horrors of Spider island, The Wild Women of Wongo, Nude on the Moon, The Mesa of Lost Women etc.. All of them are dreadful but The Mesa of Lost Women is a wonder and a marvel. A film that defies watching and one of the films that started me in my exploration of Trash Movies. It's one I return to from time to time to get my bearings - or when I need a good sleep; great chunks of it are incredibly boring; I mean seriously, hypno-toad, trance inducing type boring.

    The opening sequence alone is a masterpiece of incomprehensibility. A couple are rescued from the 'El Muerte Desert' ("The Desert... of Death!" as our VO narrator translates for us a couple of times). We start to see the story of how they came to be there told in flashback; but whose flashback we are watching is totally unclear. Is it the pilot rescued from the desert who is actually talking when the flashback starts? or is it comedy Mexican Pepe on whose face the camera is lingering as we fade with the helpful narrator hinting that Pepe knows more than he's telling? Is it the narrator's flashback? Who knows? By the end of the film ownership of the flashback is firmly established as being that of the pilot of the crashed plane - but there's a problem. The start of the flashback narrates events that the pilot has no knowledge of, which happened long before he appeared in the story, and about which he had no way of finding out during the course of the narrative. The only people who could have told him about them die within minutes of their meeting. I think the ownership of this flashback changes, during the course of the film, from one person to another. Possibly a unique event in the history of cinema.

  28. Scandal (1989) - Okay, British Film can do sex. But only if it's a costume drama!

  29. Mediterraneo (1991) - Gentle little film about a forgotten bunch of Italian soldiers stuck on a small Greek island during WW2. Out of radio contact, and cut off from the war, they slowly fall for the charms of the local girls and the gentle calm of the island. One of those films that lull you into such a feeling of warmth and security that you spend the second half of the film hiding behind your internal sofa waiting for the inevitable tragic misunderstanding; waiting for it all to go hideously wrong when the war catches up with them. It's a horrible feeling. I hate it. This time though things didn't go horribly wrong. Everyone lived!

  30. Kannibal (2001) - a straight to DVD, self-financed, incomprehensibly plotted, dreadfully acted piece of serial-killer bumsplatter which is close to nudging Zombie Women of Satan off top spot in my Crappest Film ever Made in Britain list. Godawfully dreadful in every field. I can't work out what was worst aspect of the show,: whether it was the direction - which was, frankly, fucking awful, the script - which was, frankly, fucking awful, or the production values - which were even worse than fucking awful (when they were there at all). In the end though I decided it was the script. It's always down to the script in the end really, isn't it? As evidence I tender the following badly-delivered monologue. (Which I transcribed with much labour and swearing; I forget how cumbersome VHSs are for doing this sort of thing compared with DVDs.)

    To set the scene: the killer, having finally messily disposed of all the members of a Russian Crime family, and their lesbian lovers (and eaten most of their livers), makes his way to New York. He leaves some flowers at a woman's grave, and thence to the sickbed of the aged matriarch of the Russian Mafia clan. 'Why are you doing this?' she wheezes through a layer of badly applied latex. In reply he inserts a tape into the convenient video player at the end of her bed. Cue a not very good English actress putting on a variable 'Noo Yawk' accent as she pretends to read the news straight to camera...
    "This is February the fourteenth sixty minute special coming to you from down-town New York. Today saw devastation and travesty (sic) in the streets of Manhattan like never before seen when a failed bank raid went wrong and one woman and her unborn child were killed instantly when a hijacked bus careered into the side of her station wagon. It all started at 5:45 when a gang of four armed men broke into the Federal Reserve Building. Unluckily for that (sic) an informant had raised the awareness of the police and a team of FBI were waiting. After a lengthy gun battle one of the men escaped and hijacked a local 201 bus to make his getaway. We understand the bus started its journey at 6:15, the hight of the rush hour traffic in Manhattan, and if it were not for police valour and diligence in this matter there could have been many more accidents. Within a short space of time police had set up various road blocks along the route the bus was travelling hoping to stop the carnage before it careered out of control. It was along the highway that the bus hit the station wagon causing it to smash into another vehicle head on killing the occupant on impact."
    You have to admit it, that is a really great bit of shitty writing. "A failed bank raid that went wrong," does that mean it succeeded?
    Another treasurable moment came earlier when the police inspector investigating the crimes wanted to know if someone was 'implied in the murders' instead of 'implicated' - a singularly dreadful bit of acting, by the way, from Lucien Morgan who turns in an astonishingly amateur looking performance that would have got him booed off the stages of village halls around the country had he tried it out in front of live audiences.

    What I learned from watching this film: Shooting out on location, guerilla style; out on a London streets say, (guerilla style because you have no permissions to be filming on the public highway); shooting brief insert panning shots of a character walking round a corner; it's a neat idea to do it from inside a parked car. Passers-by and the police are less likely to spot you, and point at the camera, or try to arrest you. Pretty standard cheapo film making technique. But I'd make sure there's enough money in the budget to run the car through a car wash first. Panning shots with fingerprints and glassy smears over them look like shit.

    This one's a keeper.

1 comment:

Phoebe said...

Wow! Good job on the not smoking! Makes me happy, because maybe you will live a little longer and I can visit you more. :)

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