Review- Predator 2 (1990)

Review- Predator 2 (1990)

aka Predator Goes To The City.

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Things I liked about Predator 2-

– It looks great. A fantastic comic book style and a vibrant colour palate. The framing is very comic book-like also.

– The cast. No, we don’t get Arnie again but we do get Danny Glover, Bill Paxton and Gary Busey. But the biggest surprise was seeing Lilyan Chauvin, the Mother Superior from Silent Night, Deadly Night.

Things I didn’t like about Predator 2-

– There’s no plot or decent characterisation. Nada. Zilch. Nothing to see here. This means that the film feels like all surface and no substance. I kept thinking of the first Superman film from 1978 which also had a comic book-style vision of ‘the city’ but also had a fantastic plot and beautifully drawn characters amongst other pluses. Because of these absences, there are huge chunks of Predator 2 which feel like just noise and movement for no reason whatsoever. This becomes nauseating very quickly indeed.

Such a shame especially after the cult classic feast that was the original film. Ho hum.

2 stars out of 5

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Review- Rocky 2 (1979)

Review- Rocky 2 (1979)

I love it when sequels include the ending of the previous film as a recap for the audience. It’s very considerate.

I had forgotten nearly all of what happened in this film but it all came flooding back as I started to watch it. The last time I watched Rocky 2 was on VHS in the early/mid-80s.

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Rocky goes from fighting Apollo Creed to trying to become a star of commercials rather than stepping back into the ring but this doesn’t work out (completely due to the dickhead director rather than because of our Italian hero). He then decides to try and get an office job. When this fails he then tries to get any kind of job. He eventually finds employment in a slaughterhouse. As they are so strapped for money, Adrienne decides to go back to her pet shop job part-time even though she now has a bun in the oven. Rocky then decides to a rematch against Creed but Adrienne disapproves. She then overworks herself in her job which then brings on premature labour. Whilst she gives birth and the baby is fine, she slips into a coma through complications to do with her working when she should have been relaxing.

We see that Rocky’s training for the rematch is very sloppy before Adrienne’s hospitalisation. The scenes in which Rocky sits by his wife’s side as she lay in her coma are gorgeous. I also love that when she awakens from her coma she says she wants Rocky to win in his rematch against Apollo. This sparks scenes of Rocky’s training for said match with him now giving 110% and with the famous Rocky theme playing. These scenes are genuinely uplifting as the same kind of montages are repeated from the original with Rocky as a kind of Everyman who has come from nothing but worked hard to get to his lofty heights- the embodiment of The American Dream. Under anyone else’s direction these sequences would be as corny as hell but under Stallone’s direction (yes Sly wrote and directed this film) they work beautifully.

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Again, uniformly brilliant performances as the beautifully drawn characters are again brought to life by their respective players. Again, Joe Spinell is in this film and again, I smiled when I saw his name in the opening credits. That’s enough of me using the word ‘again’.

Stallone as Rocky is such a great performance with him being just as lovable, full of heart and tenacity as he was in the original. But, Burgess Meredith has more airtime in this film and he turns in a terrific performance as the gnarled old boxing trainer Mickey who has a huge part in Rocky getting his head together and getting back in the ring to win.

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This isn’t a sequel that is better than its original film but that’s only because the first Rocky was so good. Rather, this is a sequel on a par with the original. Rocky wasn’t just a fluke. Rocky 2 became one of the three highest-grossing films of 1979 and was also critically acclaimed. And deservedly so.

4 stars out of 5

Review- Legend (2015)

Review- Legend (2015)

I have a confession to make. I might be the only person on the planet who HATED Mad Max: Fury Road. It felt like riding a really fast 2-hour fairground ride after having a roast dinner. A very uncomfortable experience.

But whilst I detested this Tom Hardy film, another released the same year made up for it. Legend was also released in 2015 and tells the story of East End gangsters Ron and Reggie Kray. All of the events synonymous with the twin’s story are here- the shooting of George Cornell, the murder of Jack The Hat McVitie, Nipper Read’s obsession with the pair and the idea of finally arresting them.

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One thing I loved about Legend was that it fantastically depicted the feeling of community in the East End of that era (all gone now, of course. In the words of Morrissey, ‘London is dead’. And he was right). I also loved the violence in the film even if it felt very cartoonish at times. In fact, the film had a tendency to descend into cartoonishness at other times too which is a shame.

However, there was another quality that the film possessed that I wasn’t expecting: its romance. When I saw Hardy as Reggie as he woos his future wife (who narrates the film), I kept thinking that he is ideal romantic lead material. I hope he finds a film in future that will exploit these qualities to their fullest.

In fact, Legend shows how much of a fantastic actor Hardy is as he plays both twins and shows their separate personalities, qualities and tics.

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Legend is based on the gritty Profession of Violence by John Pearson but instead feels more like a puff piece that doesn’t challenge the Kray’s legend whatsoever. If you’re looking for a film that peels back the layers of myth that have been built around The Kray Twins then look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for solid entertainment for a couple of hours, look no further.

3 stars out of 5

Review- Confessions of a Pop Performer (1975)

Review- Confessions of a Pop Performer (1975)

Timmy Lea and his brother-in-law are still cleaning windows (see the previous film) but somehow blag their way into the world of pop management. The band they start to manage are called Bloater which Timmy’s brother in law then renames Kipper (it’s classier). When Kipper’s drummer is unable to play a gig, Timmy steps in.

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This film is just as much of a time capsule as the previous entry in the franchise and just as beautifully filmed. The gags come thick and fast and are just as hilarious. Even the sight gags are very funny and hit their desired target.

One of the bored housewives Timmy does the horizontal bop with during the course of the film is none other than Jill Gascoine! Her onscreen husband is Bob Todd of Benny Hill fame. Rula Lenska also stars. Talk about a stellar ensemble cast.

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Kipper are entered into a talent contest called Star Knockers. One of the other pop groups in the film are a female duo of singers called The Climax Sisters. I’m sure there will be those who find this kind of humour not very funny at all. But there are those, like myself, who love it. Confessions of a Pop Performer is just as much a valuable piece of 70’s pop culture as Confessions of a Window Cleaner was.

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A soundtrack for this film featuring Kipper’s songs (sample song title- ‘The Clapham’) was released on Polydor Records. I have it. It’s ace.

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4 stars out of 5

Review- The Demon (1979)

Review- The Demon (1979)

I love the low-budget horror curios that I stumble across. Drive-In Massacre, Spawn of the Slithis and The Incredible Melting Man are three such examples of this sub-genre. I watched The Demon (aka Midnight Caller) from 1979 last night and can add it to this category.

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I actually thought the film was based in California but it’s actually Johannesburg!  There’s a broad range of accents within the cast too with Americans, Brits and South Africans here.

A man seemingly without a face is stalking women (he’s actually wearing a thin white rubber mask which makes him appear completely expressionless. Yes, there are more Halloween reference points to come within the film).

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I actually chose to watch this film as I saw that Cameron Mitchell from the great Toolbox Murders starred in this. And his character of Colonel Carson who is employed by the parents of a missing girl to use his psychic powers to find their daughter is terrific. He produces sketches of the killer for them which completely exclude his face which is very eerie and unsettling.

Another thing that I love about these horror curios is that anything can happen meaning that we get some crazy shit to watch and lap up joyously. The demise of Mitchell’s character is a complete curveball and I was left thinking, ‘Damn! I didn’t see that coming!’

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And then there’s the ending that involves a shower nozzle, a bottle of shampoo and a pair of scissors. This is a booby trap foreshadowing A Nightmare on Elm Street by 5 years but probably influenced (again) by Laurie Strode and her resourcefulness. There’s also another ANOES foreshadowing as the killer wears gloves with metal tips at the end of each finger.

If you decide to watch this film, please don’t think that this is some kind of forgotten horror masterpiece. It certainly isn’t. But if you want to watch a left-field curve ball of a film that is full of quirks then there are worse ways to spend an hour and a half. You know the film is low budget right from the start as the titles are VERY cheap looking. The filmmakers run out of music during the closing title sequence and so the last half of the credit crawl is completely silent. I love that.

3 stars out of 5

Review- Dracula (1958)

Review- Dracula (1958)

The 1958 film adaptation was noteworthy as it was the first film based around the character made by the legendary studio Hammer Films.

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This adaptation has been pared down and changed to help the film’s narrative flow (an example of this is that Jonathan Harker travels to Transylvania to purposely destroy Dracula. This is very different in Stoker’s original book in which he is there to buy property). Some characters were dropped completely (Renfield from the original book being one). Because of this, this adaptation feels leaner, less cluttered and really gets to the heart of the action. There is never a dull moment here, it really is no filler, all killer (pun not intended).

I feel like this adaptation is a great place to start in terms of cinematic vampires as it effortlessly establishes the conventions of the novel and also of the vampire genre in general ie wooden stakes, sunlight, and crucifixes. This would be done very differently these days in a modern production.

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I actually think this version of Dracula is the best, not just made by Hammer Studios but by anyone (yes, that includes you, Francis Ford Coppola). Christopher Lee will always be the definitive Dracula, a masterful blend of charisma, menace and, this was something that Lee made sure he explicitly depicted in his performance, sexual magnetism. It is shown that some of the female victims of Lee’s Dracula are more than willing to have someone as good-looking, sexy and magnetic as him enter their room in the dead of night, cape flapping and have his dreadful way with them.

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Peter Cushing is just as brilliant as Van Helsing and is the perfect foil to Lee’s career-defining performance. In fact, the entire cast turn in impressive performances and it isn’t a case of any other characters being left in the shade by Lee. Everyone holds their own when it comes to the acting.

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The photography and direction are also amazing. Every frame looks like it’s been painted and the colour palate is absolutely beautiful and a joy to behold. Terence Fisher would become synonymous with this as every one of his films is known for its richness and visual beauty.

The climactic scene in which Dracula is bathed in sunlight and dies because of this has aged incredibly well. Dracula looks like he is turning to ash and it’s a strangely beautiful scene to watch.

This is my favourite Dracula film and one of my all-time favourite vampire films along with Nosferatu, George A Romero’s Martin and Near Dark. All are peerless.

5 stars out of 5

Review- The Producers (1967)

Review- The Producers (1967)

Max Bialystock is a producer on the skids. Now that his more successful days are over, he’s had to resort to swindling rich old ladies out of their dosh. They think they’re investing in a new play he is producing but there is no play. Max’s accountant Leo Bloom notices that it’s more profitable to make a flop than a hit as the books will never be audited on a flop and so no one will look into its financial affairs. With this in mind, they search for a play or musical so bad that it will be a huge flop. They find this in the guise of a musical celebrating Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. They also find the perfect eccentric leading man to play Hitler after auditioning for the part.

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Mel Brooks’ film is hilarious. It all builds up to the stage number ‘Springtime For Hitler’ which is one of the funniest and most brilliant things I’ve ever seen on film (sample lyric- ‘Don’t be stupid, be a smarty, come and join the Nazi party’). Zero Mostel and the ever-brilliant Gene Wilder are perfectly cast as the quirky Max and Leo.

But The Producers works on another level. It also offers us a peek into the New York of the late 60s and the artists, kooks and characters who were frequenting its artistic core. Witness the director they employ, Roger De Bris, and his partner and how way out they are. Also, look at their leading man Lorenzo Saint DuBois (L.S.D. for short) who is bedecked head to toe in black, resplendent in thigh-high boots, a single ear-ring, and a Campbell’s soup can on a chain around his neck. This is, obviously, an Andy Warhol reference. This was the New York of the Velvet Underground and Who Killed Teddy Bear. The kooky actors, artists, and bohemians were pushed centre stage for some scenes within The Producers. Check out the auditions for the role of Hitler.

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Of course, a film that mocks and makes light of Hitler and Nazi Germany was always going to be controversial. This was Mel Brooks’ first film and being Jewish himself he has stated that he could either get on his soapbox as to how awful the Holocaust was and be forgotten or he could make Springtime For Hitler and be remembered forever more. And it worked!

3.5 stars out of 5

Review- First Blood (1982)

Review- First Blood (1982)

First Blood is another film I remember from the golden age of home video, an era that holds so many great memories for me. I didn’t actually see First Blood from start to finish in the early 80’s even though my brothers had rented the film on many occasions. I think I possibly thought of the film as merely a testosterone-fuelled grunt fest. I remember the trailers on the video though, one of which was for Halloween 2 as this was also released through Thorn EMI Video.

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Watching First Blood now and I’m left dazed by the experience. First Blood is one of the most savage film experiences I think I’ve ever experienced.

Vietnam vet John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is now a drifter and goes to the town of Hope to meet up with an old army buddy who he then finds has actually died of cancer the year before. He then crosses paths with the town’s sheriff (Brian Dennehy) who is far from friendly. He takes Rambo into his police station whereby he and his staff humiliate and brutalise him. Rambo snaps wastes most of the police there (one of whom is David Caruso who would go on to star in NYPD Blue) and escapes into the wilderness where the police pursue him.

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First Blood was photographed by the ever fantastic Andrew Laszlo who was the Director of Photography on masterpiece The Warriors and his work here is just as good. He fully takes advantage of the gorgeous mountain landscapes that act as a backdrop to the horrific events unfurling before our eyes on the screen. Ted Kotchoff’s direction is surprisingly beautiful with perfect framing and an ever-kinetic and moving style that lifts it far above what could have easily been a dirt-level exploitation flick.

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Something else that lifts First Blood from being typical exploitation fare is Stallone’s performance which is devoid of any Hollywood one-liners and is mostly action. In fact, there are huge periods that are just action and no dialogue. I can now see why people for whom English wasn’t their first language would frequent the 42nd Street cinemas to see the films being shown there. There was little plot to many of these films and they were more visceral instead.

Is First Blood an allegory for how America treated those returning from war? Is it a cinematic case study in PTSD? One things for sure- it’s a gruelling experience but a worthy one.

3.5 stars out of 5

Review- Killer Fish (1979)

Review- Killer Fish (1979)

A Jaws/Piranha rip-off called Killer Fish starring Lee Majors and Karen Black, you say?! I am soo fricking there!

You know the kind of film to expect when you see that this is a Sir Lew Grade Production. I love his ’70s exploitation films set in exotic locales with all-star casts. They are part Whickers World episodes and whatever film was popular at the box office when it was made.

Killer Fish concerns a robbery of precious jewels by an organised gang. The mastermind behind this heist then hides the booty at the bottom of a reservoir which he has populated with deadly piranha (as opposed to friendly vegetarian piranha). This is so that whoever tries to retrieve the jewels and do a runner will meet their karmic fate. There is so much suspicion and paranoia among the robbers. This makes the film very entertaining whenever the fish aren’t doing their thing. There are also plenty of double-crossings and twists and turns in the plot. At more than one point of the movie, I thought, ‘This film is far more intelligent than I expected it to be’.

The kills were well executed (pun not intended) and near the end of proceedings, there’s a tense scene where most of the cast are on a boat which is slowly sinking. They are close to shore but several thousand piranhas lie between them and land. What do they do? What I would have done was to throw the very fat and irritating photographer character (think of a camp version of Franklin from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and you can imagine what he’s like) into the drink. All of the piranhas would have been preoccupied feasting on his blubber which would allow the rest of the characters to get back to the mainland unscathed. In fact, his character is eaten towards the end of the film when he tries to escape on a raft (as if a raft would support his bulk!)  I imagined cinema audiences getting to their feet and cheering like hell when this played out. I know I did.

The soundtrack for the film is fantastic. Atypically 70’s which is perfect for this kind of film but also strangely sinister and avant-garde in places. Simon May is one of the writers of the theme song. He would later write the theme song for EastEnders, fact fans.

As Karen Black is a cast member, there are, thankfully, scenes of her being her demented self. One great scene has her freaking out after coming face to face with the killer fish but getting out of the water unscathed. She starts trying to bat them away even though she isn’t in the water anymore. Sir Grade securing Ms Black as part of the cast of Killer Fish was a stroke of genius.

Lee Majors’ wardrobe within the film also warrants mention. He is rocking a camp gringo kind of look in a lot of scenes, all tight vests, hats at a jaunty angle and neck scarves.

Is Killer Fish as good as the film it’s ripping off, namely Piranha by Joe Dante? Hell no. But it’s pretty damn entertaining for its runtime and is a B+ imitator. There’s much worse out there. Much, much worse!

3 stars out of 5

Review- Beat Girl (1959)

Review- Beat Girl (1959)

Teenage spoilt brat Jennifer doesn’t like his father’s new French wife, Nichole. Jennifer is involved in the new ‘Beat’ scene in London and feels completely alienated, bored and like anyone older than her is ‘square’. Through a strange coincidence, Jennifer learns that her new stepmother used to strip in Paris which leads Jennifer to venture inside Christopher Lee’s creepy and forbidden strip club which is situated opposite the Kensington cafe bar she frequents.

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Beat Girl works on several different levels. On one level, it’s one of the ‘new youth cult’ films that were made to cater to the new youth culture that was emerging and also to scare the pants off any older viewers who were probably reading with horror the moral panics being whipped up by the tabloid media of the day regarding these shocking new teenage cults. As a testament to this, Beat Girl ran into problems with the censorship board, The British Board of Film Classification. The person who classified the film called it ‘machine-made dirt’ and said that it was ‘the worst script I have read for some years’. When it was submitted it had the much more shocking title of ‘Striptease Girl’ and was hastily renamed to Beat Girl to try to avoid any more controversy. Whilst the film was released eventually with an X certificate, the board objected to the scenes of exotic dancing, the scene in which the teens play chicken and place their heads on railway tracks as a train is approaching (Beat Girl was named Wild For Kicks in the US when it was released) and the general tone of juvenile delinquency. Some prints are actually missing these scenes.

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On another level, this is a ‘pop star’ film. These types of movies were popular in the 50s and onwards in which a popular singer would bolster a cast and might sing a few numbers within the course of the movie. Beat Girl features Adam Faith and he does sing a few songs but this isn’t exclusively a vehicle just for him. There is much more going on. And some of that is very dark indeed for a film of this ilk.

Christopher Lee’s sleazy underworld owner of his sleazy underworld strip joint is a fantastic ingredient of the film. His character provides a layer of darkness within the movie that truly makes it feel dangerous and a lot darker. This type of character and this side of London hadn’t been depicted on celluloid many times before this time. We had never seen inside a strip joint (Les Girls actually seems quite a classy joint in the film) in a British film before this. This excursion is most welcome.

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Add to this the exotic dance routine we see (it’s still quite risque) and the fantastic soundtrack by the John Barry Seven (yes, that John Barry did the music and it’s fantastic) and you have a cult curio film that still stands up and is a fantastic piece of cult cinema. As Shirley Ann Fields would say it’s ‘over and out!’

4 stars out of 5