My Film of the Year is…

My Film of the Year is…

…Cats! OK, just kidding.

2019 has been a great year for films and trying to pick my favourite movie has been very hard.

Whether it was the utterly engrossing Shockingly Wicked, Evil and Vile and it’s captivating central performance by Zac Efron as Ted Bundy, the dark heart of Joker which held up a mirror to the divided world it was made in whilst possessing a very warped sense of humour (the cockney midget not being able to reach the door handle being one such example), the assured brilliance of Scorsese’s The Irishman with it’s themes of ageing and taking stock of one’s life (as much as a psychopath can take stock, that is) and the fantastic vision that provided the backdrop for Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (at last, Bruce Lee and Charles Manson in the same movie!), it’s been a cineaste’s dream of a year.

But my film of the year must go to Blue Story- a film depicting gang warfare and knife/gun crime in present day London that was very controversial from the get go because rival gangs went to see it armed with machetes at one screening in Birmingham. After fights broke out in the foyer the film was pulled from several cinema chains.

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However, the Vue cinema chain reinstated it’s screenings as they saw the importance of such a film being shown and because the film’s director questioned whether there was a racist agenda behind his film being pulled from distribution.

And thank God he did. Blue Story is such a brilliant work. Exploring the power of group identity and it’s lethal role in the lives of the disillusioned young men depicted, machismo, misplaced pride and how these qualities can turn best friends into sworn enemies, with plenty of others unwittingly becoming collateral damage. These themes feel relevant to any era but tragically so in the UK at the moment. But this isn’t the sole purpose why I have chosen this as my favourite film of the year. It’s the brilliance of the film on every level that has made it my Number 1 film experience of 2019.

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The film also makes human the kind of people who would be mere impersonal names of fatalities in the news and this is where it’s power lies. We get to see the lead characters as what they are- teenage boys making their way in the world with it’s ups and downs and also with some very touching moments of comedy. They feel achingly real which makes what is to come all the more tragic.

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In fact, the role of the rapper who bridges each of the film’s major episodes with his recap of what we’ve just seen and what is to come feels like a modernised version of the Greek chorus found in Greek tragedy and was an inspired touch.

I see that this was actually made by BBC Films. Lets hope this is shown on the BBC so that as many people can see such a brilliant piece of work.

 

Review- The Servant (1963)

Review- The Servant (1963)

After he has come back from travelling, a wealthy young man named Tony (James Fox) decides to employ a house servant. Hugo Barrett (Dirk Bogarde) successfully applies for the position. The relationship works well but this soon changes when Tony’s girlfriend Susan starts to spend time at Tony’s abode. She seems not to treat Barrett as human and takes the role of ‘master’ to his ‘servant’ to almost cruel lengths. Things get even more surreal with the introduction of Barrett’s ‘sister’ who comes to work under Tony in the same subservient role.

I’m surprised I’ve only just seen this film for the first time. It was worth the wait. This is brilliant on every level. There are universally fantastic performances especially from Fox and Bogarde who throw themselves into the descent into madness which Harold Pinter’s adaptation of Robin Maugham’s book portrays.

In fact, Pinter has a cameo role in the scene in the restaurant which epitomises the convention-breaking nature of the material at hand. We are shown an excerpt from the conversation from each table in the venue. We’re privileged enough to become privy to multiple different narratives and stories from many different characters, not just Tony and his girlfriend. One of these pairings is Pinter as a socialite and his date.

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Check out director Joseph Losey’s use of mirrors to portray the action but also to distort it’s view to the audience just as the film’s events are being shaped and distorted. Also, check out Douglas Slocombe’s cinematography which is breathtaking.

The film also reverses, subverts and delightfully fiddles around with the power dynamic of the ‘master’ and ‘servant’- who is serving who? Do the truly subservient characters even realise?

In fact, things get so surreal that I would have sworn that Pinter had written this story himself rather than just adapting it. This would make a great triple-bill with William Friedkin’s The Birthday Party (also written by Pinter) and Polanski’s Repulsion.

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On The Servant’s release it won a raft of awards and rightfully so. It also resides on The BFI’s Top 100 British Film’s list.

4 out of 5 stars

 

Review- Yield to the Night (1956)

Review- Yield to the Night (1956)

Yield to the Night finds the character of Mary Price Hilton shoot her boyfriend’s lover and then spending her time in prison awaiting her execution by hanging. Her story is told in flashback during this stay.

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On the 7th day God created Diana Dors. From her TV appearances on The Two Ronnies (playing the head of a female army who wish to take over and make all men subservient) through to her appearance in the Adam and the Ants video for Prince Charming, Ms Dors was a regular part of my childhood.

I then discovered the TV series of Queenie’s Castle from the 70’s (filmed here in Leeds) which fully exuded Dors’ abilities as a great actress.

Yield to the Night was the only worthwhile foray into film for Diana with subsequent vehicles being a complete waste of her talents. This film is amazing. The flashback sequences which show how a sultry goddess could be driven to murder are fully rounded, believable and achingly painful. As are the sequences in which she is in captivity. Check out the internal monologues we’re privileged to partake in and how she is far from a blonde bimbo. These observations about her plight and her fate are reminiscent of Travis Bickle’s musings in Taxi Driver.

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A strong case is made for the brutality of capital punishment in a ‘civilised’ society and how wrong it is. Thankfully since the film’s release this has now been rectified. You will think of this film when someone comments ‘They should bring back hanging’ in response to a news story.

4/5 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 27- Creep (2004)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 27- Creep (2004)

A privileged and thoroughly unlikeable woman ventures out to try to get into a party that George Clooney is supposedly to be at (really) and after failing to flag down a cab decides to get the last tube train from her local underground station. She then briefly falls asleep and on waking up discovers that she is all alone in the station. Or is she?

There have been horror films in the past that are either centred entirely around the London Underground (Deathline is one) or have had a scene set in a station on it (An American Werewolf in London springs to mind).

As someone who used to live in London I know how unsettling a tube line or station can be late at night when they are eerily quiet. Creep has this setting but unfortunately wastes this great location and premise.

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Maybe it’s the fact that the female lead character is just so vile. At one point in the film she seeks help from the homeless living under the station. This social divide between the rich and poor should have been explored in more depth but wasn’t.

Also, when the person stalking her is finally revealed it’s a massive anti-climax. He’s a Jason Voorhees of the Piccadilly Line but without the hockey mask, charisma or ingenuity when it comes to killing.

I would have loved to see the brattish lead suffer more for her horrible personality and thus learn some compassion and humanity as a result, a kind of cathartic redemption. But this doesn’t happen. A wasted opportunity.

2 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 9- Plague of the Zombies (1966)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 9- Plague of the Zombies (1966)

This has one of the most crazy plots of any Hammer film I’ve ever seen. I won’t give away everything that happens though.

A Cornish village is suffering from some sort of plague that is bumping people off at such a rate that the local doctor asks an expert friend to investigate what is happening. When opening up the graves of the recently deceased they discover that all of the coffins are empty. Could the answer to this mystery be connected with the tin mine which is on the land of Squire Clive Hamilton? Is it also relevant that he used to live in Haiti and the fact that he practiced voodoo and the black arts whilst he was there?

I remember seeing this in the 80s as my local television station used to show a double-bill of Hammer films every Thursday night (a blessing!) It was scary then and it’s retained it’s ability to shock. The zombies themselves are the stuff of nightmares.

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But unfortunately the film drags every now and again. But on the whole it’s worth seeing, even if it’s not the best of the studio’s output.

Fun fact- Martin Scorsese thinks highly of this film.

2/5 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 5- Day of the Triffids (1963)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 5- Day of the Triffids (1963)

I remember so well the 1981 BBC1 adaptation of Day of the Triffids. It may now be dated but, by Christ, it gave me plenty of sleepless nights as a 6 year old boy.

Years later I discovered the work of author John Wyndham who is now one of my favourite writers. Day of the Triffids is one of his best books.

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I didn’t know that there was a 1963 film version of his opus. I’m glad I’ve now seen it as it looks gorgeous. In these days of Blu ray restorations this film is a prime candidate. If a 4K scan of an original and restored print was released this film may be appreciated as a long-forgotten gem.

The plot involves a meteorite shower making whoever saw it go blind. Fortunately our leading man Bill Masen is in an eye hospital after an accident which has damaged his sight. His heavily bandaged eyes mean that he was spared from seeing the meteors fall. Plants called triffids have started to grow and come to life seemingly because of the shower. They are carnivorous, can walk and possess a very high intelligence. Oh, and they seem to hate and want to kill humans.

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This isn’t a particularly faithful adaptation of Wyndham’s book but it’s still interesting and holds perceptive observations into the breakdown of society when something catastrophic happens and how fragile the bonds that hold us all together really are. But it also shows how altruistic humans are when such an event happens.

The ending of this adaptation feels a little bit too simplistic and pat but it does very little to ruin the rest of this beautiful film.

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Fun fact- it’s this version that had gained the ultimate accolade- its quoted in a lyric of the song ‘Science Fiction, Double Feature’ in The Rocky Horror Show- ”And I got really hot when I saw Janette Scott/Fight a triffid that spits poison and kills…’

3/5 out of 5 stars

Day 22- 31 Days of Halloween- The Incredible Melting Man (1977)

Day 22- 31 Days of Halloween- The Incredible Melting Man (1977)

I first learnt of this film’s existence by walking past a cinema at the tender age of 4 and seeing a poster for the double bill of this and a TV movie that was shown theatrically in the UK called The Savage Bees (to be reviewed tomorrow night). Even the poster for this genius double bill of terror fucked me up psychologically as I was obsessed with the idea of the villians of both films coming to get me when I was least expecting it.

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I finally saw The Incredible Melting Man years later on TV- and loved it. It harks back to the horror films made for drive-ins in the 1950s. The plot involves three astronauts going on an expedition to Saturn (“You’ve never seen anything til you’ve seen the Sun through the rings of Saturn”). But something goes wrong and the only surviving astronaut, Steve West comes back to Earth to find that his body is slowly melting. We find out that to slow this down Steve who is now insane, must consume human flesh to decelerate the decomposing process.

This film is ripe for people to call it ‘so bad its good’ as if its absolutely terrible. It isn’t- and not by a long chalk.

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Yes, sometimes the acting is a little, erm, natural shall we say (the actress who plays the mother who stops off to steal lemons reminded me of Edith Massey from John Waters’ films. Yes, her acting is that raw!).

But theres also some of the best special effects I’ve ever seen which were crafted by a young Rick Baker. Yes, the Rick Baker who won seven Oscars (take that cinema elitists). The melting effects are very aesthetically pleasing and the scenes in which El Melto sheds an eyeball and leaves his oozing ear on a bush have to be seen to be believed. Watching a severed head splat on a rock after going down a waterfall in slow motion is also a beautiful sight for horror fans.

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Theres also a cameo by a young Jonathan Demme as the boyfriend of a teenage girl played by none other than Janus Blythe who played Ruby in The Hills Have Eyes. Her performance is brilliant. I love any character that goes mad at the horror of what has just occurred. She does a great job with her character alternately crying and laughing manically.

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But theres also a greater depth to this film. There are many scenes of West walking up and down hillsides with the sun setting behind him and with the sounds from the expedition in his head. These scenes show Steve to be completely alone and nomadic. West is a melting freak but not through choice and is so grotesque that he’s utterly ostracised and feels completely separated from the rest of the human race. These sequences reminded me of the melancholic piano music at the end of each episode of The Incredible Hulk or the underlying sadness to the TV programme The Littlest Hobo. The audience feels pity for West and his condition rather than his character being a two-dimensional grotesque baddie with no other sides to his persona.

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Theres also a heartbreaking scene wherein Steve reaches a barrel of water on his wanderings and sees his reflection that makes him cry out and place his head in his heads.

This film also possesses a scene which is the hallmark of a really fucked up movie- someone runs through glass. A nurse runs through a plate glass door after seeing Steve’s face when he removes his bandages for the first time. If this ‘running/throwing yourself through glass’ scene is in a film you know its special and that you’re watching high art. The scene appears twice in Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), twice in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) and once in Halloween 2 (1981)- all great, fucked up pieces of cinema.

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Any film that features the lead character melt in a great big pool of ooze at the end and is then seen being swept up and placed into a trash can by a janitor is A-OK with me.

The next time someone tells you that The Incredible Melting Man is one of the worst movies ever made tell them to fuck off. They wouldn’t know great entertainment if they fell over it.