Classics, Favourite films, Movies, Reviews

Favourite films – Zero Dark Thirty

I originally wrote this review in a somewhat shaken state after a press screening just before Zero Dark Thirty’s UK release. The film had already become a lightning rod for political controversy in the US where it was subject to an orchestrated political campaign against it, a campaign that intensified as it emerged as an Oscar contender. Director Kathryn Bigelow was raked over the coals by film critics, some elements of Hollywood’s liberal vanguard, and politicians. The controversy even went so far as to drag in the White House with Republican critics claiming that the CIA and the US Defence Department had leaked classified information to the filmmakers. Curiously most of these claims evaporated into thin air post Academy Awards.  Continue reading

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british film, Classics, exploitation, Favourite films, horror, Movies, Reviews

Favourite films – Theatre of Blood

Edward Lionheart (Vincent Price) – a prideful classical actor who refuses to act in anything but the works of The Bard – is professionally and personally destroyed by a scornful group of theatre critics who refuse to award him the Critic’s Circle Award he covets. Never knowingly prone to underselling a performance Lionheart apparently commits suicide in the wake of this humiliation. Unbeknown to the critics who savaged his reputation with glee in newsprint, Lionheart survives and plots elaborate revenge, murdering the Critic’s Circle members in gruesome and baroque scenarios derived the work of Shakespeare. Continue reading

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Classics, Favourite films, Movies, Reviews

Favourite films – Thunderbolt and Lightfoot

Sandwiched between Magnum Force and The Eiger Sanction – two fairly conventional pictures in Clint Eastwood’s filmography – Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is one of the regular curveballs the star would pitch to his audience during the height of his fame in front of the lens (in my opinion few major film stars have such understanding and mastery of their star image, and fewer still are so eager to subvert it). Continue reading

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Classics, exploitation, Favourite films, horror, Reviews

Favourite films – The Brood

David Cronenberg is a director whose films have often been accused of a lack of warmth and emotion, generally by people who (at best) are only looking at the surface of his work. Of his earlier films The Brood (1979) and The Dead Zone (1983) are the best ripostes to that point of view. Which isn’t to say that The Brood is in any way easy or comfortable viewing, in fact it is among the director’s most harrowing works, a scream of rage and sorrow that comes from personal experience. Continue reading

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best of 2014, Favourite films, Movies, Reviews

Favourite films – Boyhood

A long gestating dream project for Texas based filmmaker Richard Linklater, Boyhood is an intimate family drama charting the journey of Mason Jr (Ellar Coltrane) across the spectral Rubicon that separates boy from man. As the film begins Mason is in the 12th grade through and as it closes some 160-odd minutes later he is of College age. A variety of characters enter and exit his life, but the constants are his immediate family: mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette); sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s own daughter); and on the fringe his estranged father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke). Continue reading

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best of 2014, Favourite films, Movies, Reviews

Favourite films – Stranger by the Lake

Stranger by the Lake won Alain Guiraudie the best director award in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section, in the same year as Blue is the Warmest Colour collected the Palm D’or. Of the two gay themed films in many ways Guiraudie’s is a more challenging proposition for general audiences than Abdellatif Kechiche’s three hour lesbian romance. However beyond the presence of gay characters and explicit scenes there is no real comparison; Blue is the Warmest Colour sought to explore the universality of first love, whereas Stranger by the Lake is a film confrontational in its presentation of a sub-set of gay life defiantly outside the hetero-normative mainstream (and most likely niche even within the wider spectrum of LGBT lifestyles). Continue reading

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Favourite films, Movies, Reviews

Favourite films – Cloud Atlas

I was prompted to dust this off after hearing Hugh Grant interviewed by Simon Mayo on the BBC’s ‘flagship film programme’ Wittertainment. The actor was promoting The Rewrite, the latest in a long line of romantic comedies that have traded upon his charming, stuttering, upper class screen persona without stretching him as an actor. During the interview he was asked about the failure of Cloud Atlas and expressed his disappointment that the film had failed to find an audience. Certainly it is undeniable that the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer’s adaptation of David Mitchell’s bestselling novel was a box office disappointment that largely baffled audiences and critics alike. And yet, I have watched this 172 minute film half a dozen times since its release, and for me it gets better and richer with each viewing.

Cloud Atlas is a film of towering ambition weaving together multiple narrative threads of different colours and weights over a period spanning (something like) 400 years from the 19th century to the distant future. Actors may be the hero in one story, the villain in another, or just a bit player in the next; players change nationalities, races, in some cases genders between the stories. The cast play their parts in a range of acting styles from realism to broad caricature. It is unsurprising that the film met with such bewilderment in some quarters, and such wonder in others.

The six stories that make up the film each have a distinctive genre. There is: an historical adventure of far away lands and nautical peril; an early twentieth century drama of forbidden love in the English upper classes; a conspiracy thriller set about the nuclear industry in the seventies; a geriatric present day comedy; a cyberpunk thriller set in 22nd century Neo-Seoul; a grim post apocalyptic horror story taking place sometime in the far flung future.
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Classics, Favourite films, Movies, science fiction

Adapting Philip K. Dick, the triumph of A Scanner Darkly

The writings and ideas of Philip K. Dick have had a profound impact on the development of science fiction as a film genre from the late nineteen seventies onwards. While many films have been adapted from his novels and short stories, and many more simply inspired by or influenced by Dick, really successful adaptations have been as elusive as the nature of reality is to a typical Dickian protagonist. Continue reading

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Classics, exploitation, Favourite films, horror

Hellraiser, and the noir fantastique

Clive Barker’s 1987 film Hellraiser spawned not only a franchise (each entry’s quality declining so rapidly fans risk suffering the bends should they attempt to binge watch the instalments), but also in Doug Bradley’s Pinhead a modern horror icon to sit alongside Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, or Freddy Krueger. The popularity of Pinhead (as played by Doug Bradley) surely stems from the character’s freshness in the late eighties. While sadomasochistic imagery has now become a fixture of mainstream genre films, it was far more transgressive in 87. Deliberately conceived to stand in contrast to the sardonic, wise cracking Krueger, or the usually silent assassins of the slasher movie. Pinhead, or ‘lead Cenobite’ as how was referred to in the script, was a Dracula-esque figure, cruel but intelligent. However Pinhead’s popularity, and elevation to lead antagonist in many (although not all) sequels obscures the real villains of Barker’s original film. Continue reading

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